Half a century ago, my country was at war with America. For two decades, a brutal conflict ravaged both the United States and Vietnam. I lost my grandparents in the fighting. I never knew them because they were killed when my father was a boy.
Today, however, the Vietnamese see the United States not as an enemy but as a friend—and more important, as a leader on the global stage. Our relations never have been warmer and they’re on the verge of improving even more.
This is due to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade pact that would link Vietnam, the United States, and ten other nations around the Pacific Rim.
If approved, TPP would boost economic growth in my country by 10 percent between now and 2030, according to the World Bank. Although every nation that belongs to the agreement will benefit, including the United States, none will benefit as much as Vietnam. Our economic future hinges on the success of TPP.
For me as a farmer, the immediate advantages will be modest. Unifarm, my company grows fruit – mainly bananas, melons and citrus – on a thousand acres in the province of Binh Duong, near Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We already enjoy favorable trade conditions for bananas with Japan and Malaysia. I am hopeful that TPP will open the door not only for Unifarm’s produce but also for Vietnam’s in other overseas markets, but it will be a challenge for many Vietnamese farmers to be competitive due to limits of their small-scale production and traditional technology.
So although the apparel, textile, and seafood segments of the Vietnamese economy expect to boom under TPP, my own farm won’t see big gains in exports.
American farmers and ranchers, on the other hand, will enjoy large and immediate advantages. Vietnam is already the 11th-largest destination of U.S. farm exports, due to strong sales of cotton, dairy, and soybeans. In the last decade, agricultural exports to Vietnam have grown by more than 350 percent. They’ll grow more under TPP, as double-digit tariff rates for beef, poultry, corn, wheat, and many other products fade away.
U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack visited Vietnam last week, meeting with his Vietnamese counterpart, Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat. “The United States, in terms of agriculture, is extraordinarily well-positioned in the long term to be incredibility competitive,” said Vilsack. “We have the capacity to produce substantial amounts of product that are available for export around the world.”
For Vietnamese farmers like me, the value of TPP doesn’t depend as much on new exports as it does on the opportunity to restructure, allowing farmers to increase the size and scale of their operations. We’ll also attract new investments and connect farmers to the scientists who can help us adapt the world’s best technologies to Vietnam’s soil and climate.
With closer ties to the United States through TPP, we’ll feed not only Vietnam’s growing population of 90 million people but also people in other countries. We’ll produce more food on less land in an economically and environmentally sustainable way.
We’ll also become less dependent on China, which is currently Vietnam’s dominant trading partner. Because we’re neighbors, we’ll always trade a lot with China. Yet we don’t want to become too dependent on China. I don’t claim to be an expert on America’s foreign-policy interests, but I suspect that U.S. strategists would welcome the idea of a Vietnam that increasingly collaborates with the United States on economics.
A new generation in Vietnam and the United States is ready to look to the future, building a cooperative relationship based on mutual trust and common development. We have a unique history with the Americans, and nowadays it has more to do with love than war: Something like 1.7 million Americans can trace their ancestry to Vietnam. Years ago, my late uncle immigrated to the United States and his family lives there now.
So when people my age in the United States and Vietnam think about the history between our countries, we must approach it with a determination to avoid misunderstandings that led to conflict in the past.
We’re so much better off as friends than as rivals. Let’s be friendlier still, within the bond of TPP.