Flags of Washington State and Vietnam

Washington State Signs Agricultural MoU with Vietnam

Asia ASEAN The Mekong

Washington state and Vietnam have inked an agricultural cooperation and trade memorandum of understanding in April 2024 aiming to boost agricultural exchange, growth, and trade.

In April 2024, Washington state sent a trade mission to Vietnam. The Washington State Department of Agriculture (WSDA) and Department of Commerce led the delegation, aiming to network with firms, showcase state agricultural products, and explore the Vietnamese market. The agricultural products represented in the trade mission were wheat, wheat flour, apples, wine, cherries, and hay.

The last trade mission to Vietnam at the governor-level by Washington state took place in 2010. Vietnam has changed considerably since then, with its GDP increasing by more than $300 billion, its population exceeding 100 million people, and its economy among the most dynamic in the Indo-Pacific region.

WSDA Director Derek Sandison, representing Governor Jay Inslee, began the five-day trade mission by signing an agricultural cooperation and trade agreement with Vietnam Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) Dr. Hoang Trung. The agreement, signed as a memorandum of understanding (MoU) aimed to strengthen areas of cooperation such as digitalization programs, academic partnerships, trade relations, and investment exchanges between the two parties.

Vietnam is eager to collaborate with state departments of agriculture. While in Hanoi, I signed an MoU with MARD, on behalf of the State of Washington. This MoU is aimed at strengthening cooperation around agricultural research and trade promotion between our two nations. It will put in motion a variety of actions and objectives, such as coordinating trade promotion activities, supporting supply chain development, growing academic and research ties through collaborative projects, and facilitating information sharing and best practices for agricultural research and technology between appropriate institutions in Washington state and Vietnam,” Director Sandison shared with the East-West Center in Washington, DC via email correspondence.

Minister Hoang Trung emphasized the importance of Vietnam’s bilateral relations with the United States. The Washington trade mission comes after the landmark Vietnam-US Comprehensive Strategic Partnership, wherein President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong enhanced the level of diplomatic relations in September 2023. The United States pledged to assist Vietnam in developing top-notch digital and physical infrastructure, attaining a timely energy transition, promoting a green and innovative agricultural industry, and expanding and maintaining engagement with regional and global supply chains.

Vietnam was Washington state’s tenth largest processed food and agricultural market in 2023, accounting for approximately $157 million in agricultural exports. The state’s top five processed food and agricultural exports to Vietnam in 2023 were the following: apples, dairy, wheat, fish and other seafood, and fresh sweet cherries. Overall, Vietnam was Washington state's fifth largest export market in 2023, when including agricultural products such as apples, wheat, and dairy. Washington state's apple exports on their own totaled $57 million in 2022.

The delegation visited a Mega Market branch, a Vietnamese distributor of wholesale and retail items, to examine how their apples are being distributed in the market. Washington state is also aiming to increase its apple exports to Vietnam by 900 tons. Mega Market was the only foreign direct investment retailer visited by the Washington state delegation.

Wheat is another commodity that will benefit from the MoU. Kathy Hedberg of the Lewiston Tribune quoted Casey Chumrau, executive director of the Washington Wheat Commission, about Vietnam as a leading market for soft white wheat and a developing market for American producers. Hedberg also cited the U.S. Wheat Associates when it said Vietnam's procurement of American wheat increased by 20% between 2023 and 2024. Vietnam ranks among the top ten importers of Pacific Northwest-grown wheat, which includes hard red spring, soft white wheat, and hard red winter varieties. The soft white wheat farmed in the Pacific Northwest and transported to Vietnam and other Asian countries is mostly utilized in confectionary goods and noodles.

The Washington State delegation thanked Vietnam for removing the three percent levy on American wheat in recent years. The delegation also suggested that MARD lower tariffs on other agricultural products like apples, wine, and cherries.

"As a gateway to the Pacific, Washington State’s ports are crucial for trade, making partnerships with countries in the Indo-Pacific vital for fostering economic growth and stability. Through strategic partnerships and collaborative efforts, like the MoU we recently signed with Vietnam, we can cultivate a mutually beneficial relationship that drives innovation, promotes economic growth, and increases marketplace visibility for Washington-produced agricultural goods, ensuring the long-term viability of our agricultural sector," Director Sandison explained.

Washington state companies that operate in the Vietnamese market include Amazon, Microsoft, Boeing, Brooks, and SSA Marine. The state is also home to about 90,000 Vietnamese and Vietnamese Americans, with Vietnamese being the second most spoken Asian language in the state. This migratory tie goes back to the late 1970s, when Washington state was the only state to voluntarily accept hundreds of refugees from Vietnam and Southeast Asia.

When asked how Washingtonians can get involved in commercial opportunities in the Indo-Pacific region, here is what Director Sandison advised:

By leveraging our state’s knowledge of agricultural technology, sustainable practices, and high-quality agricultural products, Washington can play a pivotal role in meeting the growing demand for food and agricultural products in the region. Whether through export partnerships or participation in trade missions and conferences, Washingtonians have the chance to showcase our state’s agricultural prowess while tapping into the vast potential of the Indo-Pacific market.”
Director Sandison added: “For example, our International Marketing Program coordinates numerous trade activities in the Indo-Pacific region for Washington food and agriculture businesses each year and employs trade representatives in several countries within the region that help Washington businesses take advantage of potential opportunities and gain access to foreign markets. Fostering cultural understanding and building strong relationships with stakeholders in the region are essential steps toward mutual success. By working hand in hand, we can open new doors of opportunity and lay the groundwork for continued growth and prosperity.”

The Washington state delegation enjoyed a successful trip to Vietnam. The delegation was able to connect with Vietnamese businesses and government officials, promote their agricultural products, and inform their counterparts about the economic opportunities in Washington state. The trade mission to Vietnam will be critical to fostering future economic partnerships.

The author would like to thank Director Derek Sandison and Ms. Amber Betts of the Washington State Department of Agriculture for corresponding with him via email and for being valuable resources for this article.   

John Angelo Gerard "Jag” D.O. Calbario was a participant in the Young Professionals Program at the East-West Center in Washington, DC. He is a master’s graduate in international affairs with a concentration in global governance, politics, and security at the American University's School of International Service.