Remarks at American Chamber of Commerce Reception and Commercial Signings
Secretary of State
Well, I am delighted to be here with all of you. It’s great being in Hanoi, a pretty cool place, I think – (laughter) – and to be part of this event, which furthers our important relationships. And thank you very much for the award. I am delighted that I had a chance to receive it in front of such a distinguished audience, and I think it is a great reminder of how important it is that we have the public and the private sector working together on behalf of greater prosperity and progress and opportunity for all of us.
I was delighted to visit with Chamber representatives all over the world at our Global Business Conference in Washington this year, and I’d like to thank Hank Tomlinson for your leadership here in Vietnam. I want to thank Fred Burke for your very kind words and the presentation of the award. I want to thank Madam Nga for being here with us and, of course, recognize our excellent Ambassador David Shear, who has a great team working on behalf of American interests and American businesses.
We are very committed to this relationship between the United States and Vietnam, just as we are to the reenergizing of America’s relationship throughout the Asia Pacific. It’s one of the top priorities of the Obama Administration. The United States is, after all, an enduring Pacific power with Pacific interests, and we intend to be a presence in the Pacific region for the foreseeable future.
Now, a lot has been written about the so-called pivot to Asia. But what hasn’t, perhaps, received enough attention is the breadth of our engagement. It’s not just about security, although that is important. As I explained in a speech I delivered in Mongolia yesterday, it’s also about standing up for democracy and human rights, for the rule of law, for economic ties, boosting trade, and as the Secretary of State, advocating for American businesses.
If we look around this room, or you look at the list of companies represented here, there is no doubt that American business is eager to invest more in Asia. Companies are taking advantage of an improving business climate and setting up shop to serve the needs of Asia’s growing middle class. And part of my job, part of our job in government, is to help open doors for you. At the State Department, we have mounted a serious effort to place economics at the center of American foreign policy. We call it economic statecraft, using diplomacy and tools, like the Export-Import Bank, to advance and promote American economic interests and to harness the powers of the market to advance our strategic goals. And we are particularly focused on developing a global economic order that is open, free, transparent, and fair. So we’re working with partners, both new and longstanding, to establish common rules of the road, so to speak, so everyone has an equal opportunity to thrive.
Now, Vietnam is an excellent case in point for how we can grow together rather than at each other’s expense. When my husband reestablished diplomatic relations in 1995, there was very little American investment in Vietnam. Today, we are the seventh largest foreign investor, and our annual bilateral trade has grown to almost $22 billion. And as we just heard, when my husband, my daughter, and I came to Vietnam in the year 2000, we saw the changes that were happening. There was a great emphasis on improving and advancing economic relations between our countries, and agreements were signed.
So we saw progress then, but in my visit three times as Secretary of State, I’ve already seen in those last three years how our trade partnership has expanded more than 40 percent. The United States is now Vietnam’s largest market for exports, and we are very proud of that. And American companies are poised to help Vietnam take on many of its current challenges, as we just saw with the two signings involving General Electric and the provision of materials and products that will enhance Vietnam’s energy security and independence.
I met with the Prime Minister earlier today, where several members of the U.S. ASEAN business delegation had an opportunity to sit down with him and discuss how there can be steps taken for greater American investment. Now, when we think about investment or we think about deals like we just saw with GE, we’ve got to remember it’s really about people. GE will supply the critical energy that Vietnam needs to fuel its own economic development, which will give greater energy reliability and efficiency to the people of Vietnam. At the same time, these deals translate into jobs for workers at GE’s steam turbine plant in Schenectady, New York and at other sites around the United States. This is a win-win.
We also have companies based in Vietnam, like Imex Pan Pacific and IFB Holdings, that are introducing well known American brands to Asian markets. They’re bringing Gap clothing and Subway sandwiches to cities and towns across Vietnam. That’s good for American companies; it’s good for communities to attract new investments; it’s good for new businesses and the local jobs that go with them. But there is still so much untapped potential. And I told both the Foreign Minister and the Prime Minister that we think there is much more that the Government of Vietnam can do to unleash the full power of the private sector.
Domestic and international businesses alike continue to face rules that restrict their activities, and that, in turn, deters investment and slows growth. So we are encouraging the Government of Vietnam to keep on the path of economic and administrative reform to open its markets to greater private investment. And through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we’re working with Vietnam and seven other nations to lower trade barriers throughout the region, as we ensure the highest standards for labor, environmental, and intellectual property protections. Vietnam was an early entrant to the TPP, and we’re hoping we can finalize the agreement this year. And the economic analysis is that of all the countries that will be participating – Australia, Canada, Mexico, others – of all the countries participating in the TPP, Vietnam stands to benefit the most. So we’re hoping to really see this agreement finalized and then watch it take off.
Now, I don’t have to tell you that attracting more foreign business takes more than lowering trade barriers; it also requires an educated workforce prepared to compete for 21st century jobs. So the United States is also partnering with educational institutions and a range of companies and NGOs to help develop a very strong, skilled workforce to meet the growing demand here in Vietnam. For example, two years ago, Intel opened a billion-dollar facility in Ho Chi Minh City that will eventually employ thousands of workers to test the quality of its computer chips. Intel is deeply invested in Vietnam, and they recognize that to continue growing, they need to help improve the engineering skills of their workforce. So they teamed up with Vietnamese technical schools, USAID, and Arizona State University to form a new alliance that trains engineering faculty in practical, project-based instruction techniques.
And Intel has just introduced a new piece of this effort, a scholarship program specifically designed to bridge the gender gap by bringing more women into engineering programs, and I just met the first scholarship recipient, the first of several hundred women who will benefit from this program over the next five years, and I am very excited about what this means for Vietnam and for women in engineering. This reflects a larger effort launched by APEC last year in San Francisco to expand women’s economic participation across the Asia Pacific, especially in science, technology, engineering, and math. So this scholarship program is exactly what we need. And I’ve been talking all day, so excuse me. (Laughter.)
So we’ve come a long way in a short period of time, and that is – excuse me – what economic statecraft is all about. So we want to hear from all of you about what more we can do together. And at the risk of coughing any longer, I just want to say thank you, and let’s get to work. (Laughter and applause.)