Gov. Phil Bredesen has returned from his most recent business venture to China, and he said some of the potential new economic ties he found on his trip to Asia are, believe it or not, with Vietnam.
“It was surprising to me, I’ll be honest. When it was first suggested to me that we do this, my first reaction was how exactly are Americans viewed there,” Bredesen said Tuesday night. “Because I’m of an age where my colleagues were going over there and shooting guns. What I was told was they love Americans.”
Bredesen headed a small group on his visit to Asia, a trip that included an appearance at the Shanghai Expo where Tennessee was a contributor to the U.S. pavilion. He met with Chinese officials there, and U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke, former governor of Washington, was there at the same time.
“I know we developed some serious good will,” Bredesen said.
He said there is potential for more trade with China, and his trip was to build on strides Tennessee has already made there. He attended a seminar in Hong Kong, and the trip touched briefly in Vietnam, where Bredesen said some interesting new opportunities lie.
“Vietnam is a very rapidly developing market. That’s actually going to be something for the next governor to consider, if they want to pursue it,” he said.
“It’s a country of 80 million people that’s growing very rapidly. Vietnam is really trying to position itself as the plus-one of China, to move along kind of in China’s wake. They’re not nearly as big as China, but they’re really trying to do business. They’re aggressively promoting U.S. investment there.”
Bredesen’s surprise would certainly be shared by millions of Americans who remember the Vietnam War so vividly, and broader trade ties with Vietnam is a concept that for many Americans is probably difficult to grasp. Yet Bredesen seems convinced that attitudes there are quite favorable toward the United States, and a lot of that has to do with the Vietnamese people. He said the U.S. embassy there briefed his party and told him a survey is done every year where America is most popular in the world.
“For years, it’s been the Philippines. It’s now Vietnam,” Bredesen said. “Beyond all belief, Vietnam is apparently the country in the world in which Americans are held in the highest regard.
“A lot of it is that it’s a very young country, and a huge portion of the population doesn’t even remember the war. They were born after the war or were very young during it. But Vietnam since the late 1990s has been coming out of its shell. It’s very aggressive in business, like China is. I think it’s going to present some very interesting opportunities over the next decade.”
Vietnam Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Washington in April and said his country wants more trade with the United States. Reuters reports that trade between the two countries, which were bitter enemies in 1960s and early 1970s, has increased more than 700 percent under a trade agreement in 2001. U.S. trade with Vietnam was almost $16 billion last year, and the United States is already Vietnam’s biggest trade partner other than China.
Bredesen said Vietnam would probably not be so much an investor abroad but is a country where the per capita income is rapidly growing.
“They’re very interested in all things American consumer goods,” Bredesen said. “So I think there are some real opportunities for exporting various kinds of things to Vietnam, and that probably is the largest sort of potential area right now. We already have a lot of U.S. companies who are having work done there.”
He said Vietnam is a big textile manufacturer.
“The shirt somebody has here tonight, I’m sure, was made there,” said Bredesen, who was speaking at an event held by first lady Andrea Conte at the Tennessee Residence. “Right now, Vietnam is growing, particularly in the big cities. They’re becoming more wealthy. They want to buy consumer goods. They love American consumer goods, and we certainly have a bunch of them right here in Tennessee.”
The biggest player in Asia for Tennessee, however, remains China.
“We’ve been looking at a lot of different connections. We’re very interested in Chinese investment in Tennessee and creating jobs here,” Bredesen said. “China is obviously accumulating a lot of money, and it is now the world’s largest car manufacturer.
“I hope the next governor will continue this process of building these bridges. China is going to be important in the economy in the world for a long time to come.”