Academic journal article Law and Policy in International Business

Vietnam: Trading with the Enemy or Investing in the Future?

Academic journal article Law and Policy in International Business

Vietnam: Trading with the Enemy or Investing in the Future?

Article excerpt

I. Introduction

When the first issue of Law and Policy in International Business (LPIB) was published in the winter of 1969, U.S. foreign policy was based upon the premise that the world was ideologically divided between the communist, Soviet Bloc countries, and the non-communist nations allied with the United States and Western Europe.(1) The fear of Soviet expansion and the drive to contain communism were the defining forces underlying our concept of national security. An article appearing in the premier issue of LPIB explored the relationship between national security interests and the imposition of restrictions on international business transactions as a tool for furthering such interests.(2) At that time, federal regulations(3) promulgated under the authority of the Trading With the Enemy Act (TWEA)(4) prohibited virtually all economic contacts between United States nationals and certain communist countries, including North Vietnam. Not surprisingly, upon the fall of Saigon in 1975, the trade embargo was extended to cover all of Vietnam.

The world is now a very different place than it was in either 1969 or 1975. The Cold War has ended, the Soviet Union has ceased to exist, and Vietnam is aggressively embracing capitalism. Notwithstanding these monumental changes, one of the last vestiges of a Cold War foreign policy was the ongoing embargo against Vietnam which, as recently as September 1993, was renewed by President Clinton.(5) However, in February 1994, President Clinton lifted the embargo against Vietnam, completing a process begun during the Bush Administration. Specifically, all amendment to the implementing regulations for the TWEA has lifted the embargo, authorizing new financial, trade, and other transactions with Vietnam.(6)

As a result, U.S. businesses may now compete, albeit belatedly, with their Asian and European competitors, which have been rapidly establishing themselves in this most dynamic market. The United States can now constructively participate in the rebuilding of Vietnam as a market economy, fully integrated in the world community.

II. A Nascent Capitalist Economy

After the fall of Saigon in 1975, Hanoi attempted to impose a Soviet style, centrally planned economy upon a reunified Vietnam. This process involved collectivization of agriculture and the rapid socialization of all industry and commerce in the south. The results were an economic disaster. After, more than a decade of failed economic policies, Hanoi, following the example of Soviet glasnost and perestroika, embarked upon a course of reforms known as doi moi. This process was launched at the Sixth Party congress in December 1986, and involved an ambitious program of shifting the economy away from central planning while attracting foreign investment to facilitate the development of a market economy. A watershed event was the December 1987 adoption, by the National Assembly, of the Law on Foreign Investment in Vietnam.(7)

The new policy toward investments articulated in this document virtually invited foreign businesses to return to Vietnam. "The State of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam welcomes and encourages foreign organizations and individuals to invest capital and technology in Vietnam .... The state of Vietnam guarantees the ownership of invested capital ... and provides favorable conditions and simple procedures for investment in Vietnam."(8)

Initial responses to this invitation were tepid. During the first year after the adoption of the 1987 Foreign Investment Law, the volume of registered investment capital in Vietnam did not exceed $360 million.(9) The next two ears saw only modest increases in foreign investments.(10) The explanations for this hesitancy included mistrust of this formerly rigidly communist regime, the lack of any meaningful infrastructure, and the U.S.-sponsored trade embargo. One additional factor that cannot be underestimated was a great uncertainty as to how the new law would be implemented. …

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