Search Penny Hill Press

Monday, July 2, 2012

U.S.-Vietnam Economic and Trade Relations: Issues for the 112th Congress

Michael F. Martin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

Since the resumption of trade relations in the 1990s, Vietnam has rapidly risen to become a significant trading partner for the United States. Along with the growth of bilateral trade, a number of issues of common concern, and sometimes disagreement, have emerged between the two nations. Congress may play a direct role in the U.S. policy on some of these issues.

Bilateral trade has grown from about $220 million in 1994 to $21.86 billion in 2011, transforming Vietnam into the 30th largest trading partner for the United States. Vietnam is the second-largest source of U.S. clothing imports, and a major source for footwear, furniture, and electrical machinery. Much of this rapid growth in bilateral trade can be attributed to U.S. extension of normal trade relations (NTR) status to Vietnam. Another major contributing factor is over 20 years of rapid economic growth in Vietnam, ushered in by a 1986 shift to a more market-oriented economic system.

Bilateral trade may increase if both nations become members of the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). The United States and Vietnam are among the nine countries negotiating the terms of expansion of the trade association. Vietnam’s incentive to join the TPP is largely contingent on greater market access in the United States, particularly for agricultural goods, aquacultural goods, clothing, and footwear. Vietnam is also a party to negotiations to form a larger pan-Asian regional trade association based on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) that could exclude the United States and prove to be an alternative to the TPP.

The growth in bilateral trade has not been without its accompanying issues and problems. Vietnam has applied for acceptance into the U.S. Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program and is participating in negotiations of a Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States. Vietnam also would like to be officially recognized as a market economy.

There have also been problems with U.S. imports of specific products from Vietnam, particularly catfish-like fish known as basa or tra. In 2008, the 110th Congress passed legislation that transferred the regulation of catfish from the Food and Drug Administration to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and authorized the Secretary of Agriculture to determine if basa and tra are to be considered catfish. The Vietnamese government strongly protested the law as a protectionist measure. On February 24, 2011, the USDA released proposed new catfish regulations, which did not resolve the status of Vietnam’s basa and tra exports.

An examination of recent trends in bilateral trade reveals that other product categories—such as footwear, furniture, and electrical machinery—could generate future tension between the United States and Vietnam. Observers of Vietnam’s economic development have also been critical of Vietnam’s protection of workers’ rights, its enforcement of intellectual property rights laws and regulations, and the country’s exchange rate policies.

The 112th Congress may play an important role in one or more of these issues, as have past Congresses. The 112th Congress would have to consider implementing legislation if a TPP agreement is concluded. Congressional action on key legislation, such as the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act of 2012 (S. 3240), could have an impact on the TPP negotiations. This report will be updated as circumstances require.

Date of Report: June 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 26
Order Number: R41550
Price: $29.95

Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.

To Order:
R41550.pdf  to use the SECURE SHOPPING CART


Phone 301-253-0881

For email and phone orders, provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Follow us on TWITTER at or #CRSreports