Vietnam says it's committed to 'free and fair' trade after Trump's tariff threat

Vietnam has seen a leap in exports to the US this year as the US-China trade war simmers.
Vietnam has seen a leap in exports to the US this year as the US-China trade war simmers.PHOTO: AFP

HANOI (AFP) - Hanoi said it is committed to "freedom and fairness" in its trade ties with the United States, after President Donald Trump threatened to impose tariffs on goods from Vietnam, a major exporter to America.

Vietnam has seen a leap in exports to the US this year as the US-China trade war simmers, prompting businesses to migrate from China to safer, and cheaper, manufacturing hubs like Vietnam.

Mr Trump has already escalated tariffs on US$200 billion (S$270 billion) worth of Chinese goods, and this week singled out Vietnam as "the single worst abuser of everybody" threatening to slap levies on their exports too.

But on Friday, Vietnam tried to row back tensions, saying it is committed to "economic trade, and investment relations in the direction of freedom and fairness, on the basis of mutual benefits", according to a statement from the foreign ministry.

It added that it has made "great efforts to improve the trade balance between the two countries", which hit nearly US$40 billion last year, compared to China's nearly US$420 billion.

Mr Trump has long complained about the gaping trade deficit with Vietnam, urging its former war foe to buy more American weapons and goods to narrow the gap.

Despite Mr Trump's earlier tough language, he smiled and posed for photos with Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc on Friday in Japan at the G20 summit where global trade rows topped talks.

 
 
 

Vietnam has been cautious to brand itself as a winner in the US-China trade spat, even as firms like Brooks Running Company, Haier washing machines and sock maker Jasan Group, which supplies Adidas and Puma, have shifted business into the cheap labour market.

The US is one of Vietnam's main exports markets, and exports to America spiked 40 percent in the first three months of the year compared to 2018.

The foreign ministry also said it would act against companies attempting to export Chinese goods illegally labelled as "Made-in-Vietnam" in order to dodge US tariffs.

This week Hanoi said it was looking into claims that Vietnamese electronics firm Asanzo had illegally exported incorrectly labelled Chinese-made TVs from its shores.

Analysts say that short-term gains from the US-China trade spat for countries like Vietnam may soon drop off if the ongoing row between the world's two biggest economies drags global growth.