Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local Firms Timid about New Market

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Local Firms Timid about New Market

Article excerpt

By ending the trade embargo against Vietnam, President Bill Clinton finally took the leg irons off American companies that want to compete against foreign firms in that southeast Asian nation.

But most local companies are cautious about entering the race for profits in Vietnam. Some say the race isn't worth running.

While starting from far behind, American companies still have some advantages, said economist Dwight R. Lee, an adjunct fellow at Washington University's Center for the Study of American Business.

"You have to remember that the embargo was pretty leaky," Lee said. "And it wasn't leaking around the edges, it was leaking right down the middle.

"When I was in Vietnam in November, if I wanted to drink a Coke, smoke a Marlboro and have my picture taken with Kodak film, it was no problem," Lee said. "Whether these products were being brought in by third parties or whether some U.S. firms were skirting the law, I don't know."

Lee said many American firms probably will take a go-slow approach to the Vietnamese market.

"Coke, or example, might import a lot of their products, but will wait on investing a lot of money for a bottling plant," Lee said.

A random survey of major St. Louis and regional firms indicates that most companies will take a cautious approach to Vietnam.

"We are going to look at Vietnam on a project-by-project basis," said Jerry L. Bryan of Sverdrup Corp., the worldwide engineering, architectural and construction firm.

Bryan said Sverdrup has extensive experience in Southeast Asia.

"We brought electrical power to half the population of Thailand with the dams we constructed," Bryan said. But, he added, most of Vietnam's engineering and construction needs will be on a more limited scale.

"It just won't be cost-effective for us - or for the Vietnamese - to fly our people in for a (minor) asphalt road job," Bryan said.

Anheuser-Busch International Inc. is looking at the Vietnamese beer market. But the company issued a statement saying, "However, we do not expect any specific outcome from such studies at this stage, other than to broaden our understanding of the marketplace."

Monsanto Co. spokeswoman Shara Taylor said the agricultural-chemical company is interested in selling herbicides in Vietnam. But, she added, the company is just starting to study the market.

James N. Webster takes a similar go-slow approach.

"It's not on the front burner for us," said Webster, the general manager for international sales for Carboline Inc. Carboline makes speciality paints and coatings for industry and has done extensive business in Asia.

"Vietnam is really secondary to us compared to Malaysia and Indonesia," Webster said.

But Webster sees some sales of industrial paints and coatings to American and foreign firms who are interested in drilling for oil off the Vietnamese coast. …

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