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Make Me Smart with Kai and Molly

The changing economic relationship between the US and Vietnam

Mark Garrison May 23, 2016
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Vietnam's President Tran Dai Quang and U.S. President Barack Obama take part in a joint press conference at the International Convention Center in Hanoi on Monday. Obama praised "strengthening ties" between the U.S. and Vietnam at the start of his landmark visit.
LUONG THAI LINH/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama is in Vietnam this week and business is a key focus of the trip. On Monday, Obama announced that the U.S. is lifting an embargo on lethal arms sales to the country.

Trade between the U.S. and Vietnam adds up to $45 billion a year, the majority of it stuff Vietnam sells to America. Such a sum was unthinkable in the years after the war. But America ended its trade embargo in 1994 and things ramped up from there.

“It’s amazing this transformation can happen in one lifetime,” said Annette Kim, a professor at USC’s School of Public Policy.

Vietnamese leaders are hoping for even more change under the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. The Peterson Institute for International Economics forecasts an 8.1 percent gain in real income for Vietnam under the TPP by 2030, as its textiles and other goods get easier access to American markets. The TPP could also help bring more foreign investment, productivity gains, and opportunities to move into more complex manufacturing.

“Vietnam is a big winner,” said Gary Hufbauer, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute. “This is going to be a big boost to Vietnam, no doubt about it.”

Those gains could come at the expense of some American manufacturing jobs, though TPP supporters say the net effect is positive for America’s economy.

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