Obama and trade policy in Vietnam by mattsteinglass
October 29, 2008, 10:34 am
Filed under: Economics, President, Trade

Matthew Yglesias and Ryan Avent are right that Obama is unlikely to alter US trade policy significantly. Here in Vietnam, it’s true that middle-aged businessmen tend to support McCain over Obama, but that’s largely because McCain has obvious personal ties to Vietnam and was heavily involved in promoting the US-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement in 2000, which pretty much kick-started Vietnam’s burst of growth over the past 8 years. No one is actually expecting that Obama will make concrete protectionist moves. The only area of action on trade with Vietnam right now is ongoing discussions under the so-called Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA) signed in 2007, which is supposed to provide a framework for further opening trade and investment in various areas. But as a US Vietnam expert with close ties to the Obama campaign told me a few weeks ago, this tends to involve old wine in new shipping containers — normal development of new trade elements like, say, approval for imports of Vietnamese dragonfruit into the US (approved by the Dept. of Agriculture this summer), which can now be trumpeted as a success of the TIFA and as a marker of further warming between the US and Vietnam, which makes diplomats happy.

Anyway, the upshot is that an Obama presidency and more Democrats in Congress are unlikely to make much difference to Vietnamese exports to the US. What will make a huge difference is the recession, which is already hitting Vietnamese apparel and wooden-furniture exports in a big way. If Obama can get the US economy back on track and get US consumers spending again he’ll be a hero in East Asia.


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