Vietnamese Americans await the arrival of Vietnam Communist Party leader Nguyen Phu Trong at Joint Base Andrews, where he met with President Obama. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Vietnam and Arkansas Grow Closer with New Trade Agreements

ASEAN The Mekong

This summer has seen significant developments in Arkansas-Vietnam trade relations, with two agreements signed in June and July. On June 29th, Governor Asa Hutchinson signed a memorandum of understanding with Dinh Quoc Thai, Chairman of the People’s Committee of Dong Nai Province, at the state Capitol in Little Rock, making Arkansas the first state to sign an official agreement with the southern province. In a ceremony attended by Governor Hutchinson and US Senator Tom Cotton the following day, Dong Nai-based furniture assembler Tinnghia opened a trade center in Bentonville after partnering with Made in USA Works, an Arkansas-based company that brings foreign manufacturers stateside.

Then in July, state-owned oil giant Petrovietnam and Arkansas’ Murphy Oil Corporation signed a memorandum that expressed the American company’s interest in collaborating on Petrovietnam’s Block B gas exploration project off the southern coast of Vietnam. Murphy also invited Petrovietnam to participate in projects in the Gulf of Mexico.

Among the attendees of the signing ceremony on July 8th was Nguyen Phu Trong, the first General Secretary of the Vietnamese Communist Party to make an official visit to the United States. Trong stopped in Arkansas after meeting with President Obama a day earlier at the White House. In celebration of the 20th anniversary of normalized relations between the US and Vietnam, Obama and Trong issued a Joint Vision Statement that outlined future cooperation between their two countries in several areas.

Chief among them was trade, which blossomed following normalization. Development of the countries’ bilateral trade relationship expanded rapidly after the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement went into effect in 2001, ballooning from $451 million in 1995 to nearly $35 billion in 2014.

With the Dong Nai and Petrovietnam agreements reached, Arkansas is on track to become a major host of Vietnamese investment, thus promoting further US-Vietnam cooperation. Dong Nai officials have expressed interest in constructing a coffee production plant in Arkansas as a means of expanding the presence of Vietnamese coffee beans in the US market, and Tinnghia also plans to open a furniture assembly plant in the state in the future.

Patrick Madaj is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and an undergraduate student at the University of Oklahoma.