Relations between the United States and Vietnam are at a historic high following the establishment of the U.S.-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership in 2013 and the celebration of 20 years of diplomatic relations in 2015. The President’s visit to Vietnam builds on this positive momentum to cement the progress of the last few years and propel our bilateral relationship to the next level.
Engagement with Southeast Asia has been a central pillar of the U.S. Rebalance to Asia. The return on this investment is clearly evident in our relations with Vietnam, where we have significantly increased trade and investment and expanded cooperation across the board.
Our economic ties are strong and growing quickly. Trade between our countries has nearly tripled in the last seven years, and now tops $45 billion. U.S. exports to Vietnam increased by 23 percent in 2015, the largest increase of our top 50 trade partners, and only one of two markets with double-digit growth. At the same time, the United States remained Vietnam’s largest export market, growing 24 percent year-on-year.
Economic ties between our countries are poised to expand even further with the implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, which will hold nearly 40 percent of the world’s GDP accountable to the highest labor, environmental, and intellectual property rights standards of any previous trade agreement, while leveling the playing field for workers and businesses. The United States is committed to helping Vietnam continue on its path of economic reforms, including efforts required to fully implement its commitments under the TPP through technical assistance. These reforms will include work to ensure freedom of association, including independent unions, and other internationally recognized labor rights; protection and enforcement of intellectual property; and environmental protection and sustainable growth.
U.S. investment in Vietnam has grown significantly over the past seven years to nearly $1.5 billion. Through the recently-launched U.S.-ASEAN Connect initiative we are working with all ASEAN members, including Vietnam, to foster the policy environments that promote ASEAN economic integration, increase trade and investment, assist the development of clean energy and energy connectivity, and spur sustainable, innovation-led economic growth.
We are working with Vietnam toward a successful 2017 APEC host year and ensuring that APEC continues to be an incubator for new ideas that spur inclusive economic growth, promote sustainable development, and advance trade liberalization.
We have expanded security cooperation. We have expanded cooperation on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, including through the Pacific Partnership and Pacific Angel engagements and joint humanitarian training exercises. The United States is strengthening security cooperation with Vietnam, including helping the government build its maritime security capabilities, by providing more than $45.7 million since FY 2014 through the State Department’s Foreign Military Financing and law enforcement capacity building programs. Additional assistance is provided through the Department of Defense’s Cooperative Threat Reduction Program and Maritime Security Initiative (MSI) funding, a regional initiative for which the Department of Defense has committed $425 million over five years. At Vietnam’s request, we are pursuing providing 18 Metal Shark 45-foot patrol boats, as well as training and maritime law enforcement equipment to the country’s Coast Guard. Our Navies are working more closely together to ensure maritime security and safety.
The United States is supporting Vietnam’s efforts to contribute to UN peacekeeping operations by assisting in the development of a peacekeeping training center near Hanoi, as well as providing medical equipment to support Vietnam’s UN pledge of a deployable Level II hospital.
We are working together to prevent North Korea’s proliferation activities and to fully implement UNSCR 2270.
U.S.-Vietnam people-to-people ties are stronger than ever. Nearly 19,000 Vietnamese now study in the United States -- 40 percent more than in 2009. Over 80,000 Vietnamese visited the United States in 2015, and many thousands of Americans visited Vietnam. The new Fulbright University Vietnam (FUV), which opens in Ho Chi Minh City later this year, will help bring world-class, independent education to Vietnam and deepen the ties between our peoples. Over 13,000 Vietnamese are members of the Young Southeast Asia Leaders Initiative (YSEALI), more than any other ASEAN country except Indonesia. We are also connecting American universities with Vietnamese higher education institutions to improve the quality of higher education in Vietnam. The United States and Vietnam signed a Peace Corps country agreement during the President’s visit.
We have deepened cooperation on humanitarian and war legacy issues. Vietnam has provided critical assistance to our efforts to account for U.S. personnel missing in action from the war. We also continue to work with the Vietnamese government to identify the remains of Vietnamese personnel lost during that period. The United States has contributed over $92 million since 1993 to address the threats posed by unexploded ordnances (UXO). The United States has invested nearly $90 million in dioxin remediation at the Danang airport, a project that will finish next year. We have also funded an environmental assessment at Bien Hoa airbase.
We have expanded cooperation on regional and global challenges. Vietnam is a key partner on climate change, sustainable development, nuclear and radioactive source security, advancing the Global Health Security Agenda, and wildlife trafficking. Vietnam is taking critical steps on climate change, including committing to join the Paris Agreement this year, developing plans to implement their climate targets, and the government’s call to review coal-fired power generation and move towards natural gas. The United States has invested over $40 million since 2011 to help mitigate the impacts of climate change in Vietnam, one of most vulnerable countries in the world to its effects. We are helping Vietnam reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the agriculture, forestry, and energy sectors and building resilience for communities in the Mekong River and Red River Deltas and along the coast of Vietnam. We are partnering with Vietnam to build capacity to prevent, detect, and respond to biological threats, including through Vietnam’s five-year roadmap to achieve the targets of the Global Health Security Agenda and our joint effort to undertake and share external assessments of capability.
We also work with Vietnam as part of the Lower Mekong Initiative (LMI) to develop a regional approach to sustainable environmental management and strengthen capacity to manage shared water resources. We recently responded to Vietnam’s ongoing historic drought with a natural disaster declaration and $50,000 for immediate assistance to those most affected. The United States has provided $5 million to support Vietnam’s efforts to counter wildlife trafficking, particularly strengthening law enforcement, and reducing demand for illegal wildlife products. The United States and Vietnam have expanded cooperation in combating transnational crime, including through the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime to strengthen effective border management in Vietnam through the establishment of border liaison offices.
We are actively promoting respect for human rights and religious freedom. The United States supports a strong, prosperous, and independent Vietnam that promotes respect for human rights, open space for civil society, and the rule of law. The Vietnamese government’s commitment to protect fundamental human rights is a crucial aspect of our bilateral relationship and continued progress in that area will enable the Vietnamese people and the U.S.-Vietnam partnership to reach its fullest potential.
During the April 25-26 annual U.S.-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue, the United States called on Vietnam to release all prisoners of conscience and cease harassment of individuals exercising their fundamental freedoms, including those relating to expression, assembly, and religion. Our two countries have increased cooperation on disability rights and the rights of LGBT persons in the UN Human Rights Council. We also welcome Vietnam’s ratification in 2015 of the UN Convention Against Torture and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, and will continue to urge their full implementation.
The Vietnamese government has pledged to institute legal reforms to bring Vietnam’s laws into compliance with its international commitments and its 2013 constitution, which contains a new dedicated chapter on human rights. We are also supporting legal education in Vietnam by working with Vietnamese law schools through the United Nations Development Programme. We continue to explore ways that the United States can work with Vietnam to support both legal reform and the rule of law, including through a new Letter of Agreement on Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Sector Assistance. U.S. and Vietnamese officials and academic experts also have increased exchanges of best practices on key laws, including the Law on Religion and Belief and the Law on Association. USAID’s economic engagement with Vietnam supports strengthening the rule of law and raises standards in key areas. Working with Vietnam to ensure it meets the high standards of the TPP agreement offers an unprecedented opportunity to make progress on labor rights.
The U.S.-Vietnam relationship is poised for progress. In the years ahead, we look forward to working with the new Vietnamese government to strengthen our cooperation on the increasingly wide range of shared interests between our countries and deepen the bonds between our peoples.