When Vietnam’s prime minister visits the White House as early as next week, he will probably push for a free trade deal with the United States. That agreement would mean gold to Vietnam, where the fast-growing economy depends on shipments of manufactured exports to developed countries. The PM’s reminder would press U.S. President Donald Trump over a pledge to sign one-on-one agreements as a replacement for the 12-country Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Trump dropped out of the deal because he felt it was a raw deal for American workers. But he might not make Vietnam top priority for a two-way trade deal, especially since it views the Southeast Asian state as a nefarious net exporter with a $32 billion trade deficit in 2016.
But China has more credibility lately because its leadership is talking to Vietnam proactively on things that matter to it. Its trade deal concept for ASEAN would probably put still developing Vietnam at ease by omitting some of the TPP’s clauses that favor labor, clean air and reforms of state-owned companies. “The credibility issue of how Southeast Asian states view the U.S. was really put on notice when Trump suspended or walked away from the TPP, and Vietnam is part of that,” says Brian Eyler, Southeast Asia program director with Washington-based think tank the Stimson Center.
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