After repelling foreigners and enduring wars for the last 150 years Vietnam is finally at peace and enjoying an economic renaissance that may well surpass that of its neighbour China. Therein lies some opportunities for New Zealand businesses.
When I visited Vietnam in 2005 it was obvious that the country of some 84 million inhabitants was on the cusp of something big. Rapidly industrialising and with a young and highly motivated population, the South-East Asian nation has recorded consecutive GDP growth rates of around 8% for many years since the economic reforms of the mid-1980s. An example of this growth was the recent announcement that Samsung will build a plant for manufacturing mobile handsets with an eventual capacity of up to 100 million units. But manufacturing is not the only economic growth driver.
The mighty Mekong river basin, which fans out from the south of the country, is also the food basket in a region renown for its delicious Eurasian fusion cuisine. With a huge output from intensely farmed field crops and fisheries that are managed under a centrally planned system, the Mekong directly supports about 18 million farmers and fisherman and their families and provides food for at least 60 million.
Vietnam continues to move towards full market economy status and has benefitted from substantial inflows of capital from neighbouring states and the U.S. since the lifting of trade sanctions by President Clinton. total foreign investment was around $US 20 billion in 2007. As well, Vietnamese dispora who left as refugees are now returning newly educated and with new capital and fresh ideas. There are many challenges remaining however, particularly in the areas of environmental sustainability and infrastructure.
Work is about to commence on a $US 8 billion project to build a new airport for Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) at Long Thanh for example. Although the existing airport was recently upgraded, it sits amidst the low-roofed shacks within the Ho Chi Minh city limits and is constrained from further growth. The new airport is expected to become a regional hub of some significance.
New Zealand exports to Vietnam grew by a whopping 62% last year. Dairy products and educational services are leading the charge; but there are a multitude of other opportunities for small businesses who can find smart ways to partner locally and secure access to the region.
Vietnam is a nation of huge contrasts. On the one hand a booming economy and beautiful scenery on the other tremendous environmental challenges and horrific human legacies from the war. But with a sound strategy and local partners there are rich pickings for those that can stay the course.
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