Trade irritants and the expansion of economic ties were among the topics of discussion at a meeting held under the U.S.-Vietnam Trade and Investment Framework Agreement this week in Hanoi. A press release from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative states that the U.S. also used the TIFA talks, the first between the two countries since 2011, to reaffirm the Trump administration's commitment to expanding ties with the Asia-Pacific region, including Vietnam.
According to USTR, the two sides agreed to launch working groups to resolve issues on agricultural and food safety, industrial goods, intellectual property matters, and digital trade. Problems USTR identified in these areas in its most recent trade barriers report include the “broad scope and uneven enforcement” of a comprehensive food safety law Vietnam issued in 2012; requirements for phytosanitary certificates for many pre-packaged, consumer-oriented, or highly processed foods of plant origin for which such certificates are not normally issued or required; Internet-based copyright piracy and the increasing sale of counterfeit goods online and in physical markets; and ambiguous language in Vietnam’s 2015 law on network information safety.
The U.S. also urged Vietnam to promptly address issues with respect to financial services, customs, transparency and good governance, and illegal wildlife trafficking, and officials agreed to continue their dialogue on these issues. The meeting also reviewed Vietnam's implementation of the World Trade Organization Trade Facilitation Agreement and its participation in the expanded WTO Information Technology Agreement.
Both the U.S. and Vietnam were among the dozen Pacific Rim nations that negotiated the Trans-Pacific Partnership. However, President Trump withdrew the U.S. from the TPP earlier this year and has said his administration will focus more on negotiating bilateral free trade agreements. Vietnam has reportedly expressed interest in such an agreement but it is unclear if or when the U.S. might agree to begin negotiations. In this context it is worth noting that Trump has pledged to work to reduce U.S. trade deficits with other countries and that the U.S. ran a $30.9 billion deficit in goods trade with Vietnam in 2015, up 24.4 percent from the previous year.