Trump hails signing of deals worth 'billions' with Vietnam

By Reuters   June 1, 2017 | 03:49 am GMT+7
Trump hails signing of deals worth 'billions' with Vietnam
U.S. President Donald Trump (R) welcomes Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 31, 2017.

'They just made a very large order in the U.S.'

U.S. President Donald Trump discussed trade with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc during a White House visit on Wednesday and welcomed the signing of business deals worth billions of dollars and the jobs they would bring.

General Electric Co said earlier it had signed deals with Vietnam worth about $5.58 billion for power generation, aircraft engines and services, its largest ever single combined sale with the country.

"They just made a very large order in the United States - and we appreciate that - for many billions of dollars, which means jobs for the United States and great, great equipment for Vietnam," Trump told reporters at the White House. 

Phuc told the Heritage Foundation after his meeting with Trump he had signed deals for U.S. goods and services worth $15 billion during his three-day U.S. visit, most involving the import of U.S. equipment.

Vietnam has gone from being a bitter adversary of the U.S. during the Cold War to an important partner in the Asia-Pacific, where both countries share concerns about China's rising power.

Phuc told Trump the relationship had undergone "significant upheavals in history," but that the two countries were now "comprehensive partners."

Phuc's meeting with Trump makes him the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House under the new administration.

Trade friction

However, while Hanoi and Washington have stepped up security cooperation in recent years, trade has become a potential irritant, with a deficit widening steadily in Vietnam's favor, reaching $32 billion last year, compared with $7 billion a decade earlier.

Trump, who has had strong words for countries with large trade surpluses with the U.S., said he would be discussing trade with Phuc, as well as North Korea.

Washington has been seeking support to pressure North Korea to drop its nuclear and missile programs, which have become an increasing threat to the U.S. Hanoi has said it shares concerns about North Korea.

In his Heritage speech, Phuc welcomed Trump's plans to attend the November APEC summit in Hanoi. He called it a sign of U.S. commitment to the region and "an important occasion for the United States to assert its positive role."

In a reference to somewhat warmer ties between Washington and Beijing under Trump - who has been courting China's support on North Korea - Phuc said Vietnam welcomed good relations between the two powers, but hoped these would serve the interest of other nations in the region too.

He urged Washington and Beijing "to act with full transparency and in a responsible manner so as not to impact negatively the region and relations among other nations."

Vietnam's government said on its website Trump and Phuc had agreed to promote defense ties and discussed the possibility of U.S. vessels, including aircraft carriers, visiting Vietnamese ports.

It said they had expressed concern about the South China Sea, where Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines and Brunei are involved in maritime disputes with China, which claims nearly all the strategic waterway. Taiwan also stakes a claim.

"They emphasized that parties must not take actions accelerating tension such as the militarization of disputed structures," it said, an apparent reference to China's construction work

'Nice, but not enough'

Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the Trump administration welcomed new business deals with Vietnam, its view was they were "nice, but not enough."

"They want Vietnam to bring some ideas about how to tackle the surplus on an ongoing basis,” he said.

On Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed concern about the rapid growth of the deficit with Vietnam. He said it was a new challenge for the two countries and he was looking to Phuc to help address it.

The deficit is Washington's sixth largest and reflects growing imports of Vietnamese semiconductors and other electronics products in addition to more traditional sectors such as footwear, apparel and furniture.

Phuc said the two economies were "more complementary than competitive" and said U.S. exports to Vietnam had seen a rapid rise.

On Tuesday his trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, presented Lighthizer with suggestions to address some U.S. concerns, such as advertising on U.S. social media, electronic payment services and imports of information security and farm products, Vietnam's trade ministry said.

Vietnam also urged the U.S. to remove an inspection program for catfish, speed import licenses for its fruit and make fair decisions on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on Vietnamese products, the ministry said.

Vietnam was disappointed when Trump ditched the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, of which Hanoi was expected to be one of the main beneficiaries, and focused U.S. trade policy on reducing deficits.