American companies in Vietnam are continuing to strive for a return to normal operations as some struggle with labour issues and flexible adaption to a post-pandemic world.
|American companies, like those from other nations, are confident in Vietnam’s growth. VIR Photo: Le Toan|
At an event titled “Meet the USA: Partnering for reopening, recovery, and rebound in the southern economic region” held in Ho Chi Minh City last week, Kheng Joo Ung, managing director of First Solar Vietnam, reflected that the entry approval process for skilled foreign workers and experts’ is currently too complicated and time-consuming, meaning they are short of workers.
“Many companies, including First Solar Vietnam, are seeing a delay in new technology and product introductions. This will put Vietnamese-made products at a disadvantage in the global market place,” Ung said. “We hope the authorities can do more to relax the entry approval process and lead time as soon as possible,” he said.
First Solar plans to have around 300 foreign experts to support its capacity increase and new product introduction programmes by the first half of next year.
It is not only workers from overseas for whom there are obstacles. Ho Chi Minh City People’s Committee has relaxed quarantine requirements for enterprises with more than 80 per cent of employees fully vaccinated. However, Ung said that employees from neighbouring provinces are still subjected to different quarantine protocols at their neighbourhood ward level.
“We hope southern provinces with high vaccination rates, such as Binh Duong and Dong Nai, can have a similar practice to that issued by Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health in November to avoid potential labour shortages in manufacturing in this region,” he added.
With two discussion sessions on cooperation in safe opening and economic recovery for the south of the country, leaders of Ho Chi Minh City and localities in southern provinces discussed the situation of controlling COVID-19, potential information sharing, and orientations for economic recovery and development moving forward.
Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs To Anh Dung said that the Vietnamese government had implemented many robust measures to switch from a zero-COVID strategy to a safe, flexible adaptation and reasonable control of the coronavirus. “Leaders of the Party, state, National Assembly, and government of Vietnam always listen, share, and promptly remove obstacles to help businesses partly overcome difficulties caused by the impact of the pandemic,” Dung said.
Representatives of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, along with US businesses, expressed their strong belief in the economic development of Vietnam and of the southern economic region in particular.
Together with local authorities, US corporate leaders have discussed issues of concern related to vaccinations, COVID-19 prevention and control activities, and recommended matters to support the process of economic recovery and sustainable development.
Looking on the optimistic side, Marie Damour, chargé d’affaires of the US Embassy to Vietnam, emphasised that Vietnam’s economy is on the rise again after fighting through the summer’s difficulties.
“This is a good sign for the US because the economies of the two countries are closely linked. Vietnam is the 10th-largest trading partner of the US and an important link in the global supply chain. Vietnam is also a major importer from the US with materials and goods to support economic development,” Damour said.
So far, the US has invested more than $10 billion in Vietnam with more than 1,100 projects in operation, mostly in accommodation and food services, manufacturing, waste treatment, and logistics.
Vietnam and the US have seen two-way trade turnover increase hundreds of times during the 25 years since the two countries established diplomatic relations, from $451 million in 1995 to over $90 billion last year. This figure is expected to reach $100 billion in the very near future.
Adam Sitkoff - Executive director, American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi
Most importantly, we need to see better coordination at all levels of government on implementing pandemic-related policies. We are working with the government to ensure a fair, transparent, predictable, and streamlined regulatory environment that values innovation. The regulatory approval processes for foreign investment should be less burdensome to encourage and expedite more US investment to support post-pandemic economic recovery here. American companies have an interest in Vietnam’s continued success. We can all do our part to help during these challenging times because social distancing does not mean social disengagement.
AmCham members stand together with the Vietnamese people and US businesses continue to donate goods and other resources to assist outbreak areas.
Jahanzeb Khan - CEO and general director, Suntory PepsiCo Vietnam Beverage
The last six months have been quite challenging for the southern economic region as a whole, and our business. Nonetheless, we are confident about the future of our business in Vietnam and remain committed to this market.
We believe that the governments of the southern economic region and the business community should work to tackle potential challenges by ensuring flexible and consistent regulations across provinces to deal with the pandemic, reopening the rest of the economy, minimising financial burdens from a regulatory perspective for businesses to ensure competitiveness, and staying ahead of the curve in terms of vaccination compliance.
Other solutions are proactively engaging with consumers and the public at large to build confidence and continuing to support initiatives related to sustainability and the environment. Businesses also need to adapt their plans to changing consumer and customer trends, such as an increased focus on value, wellness, and the growth of emerging online channels.
Walt Power - CEO and general director, The Grand Ho Tram
The Grand Ho Tram is one of the largest investors in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau. During the last 20 months we have remained open, and continued our expansion. On December 19, we will open the new Holiday Inn tower, which will add 561 rooms. Construction is also underway for additional phases, which will see a investment approaching $2 billion over the next few years.
We maintain a close relationship with stakeholders and national and provincial leadership. We are in daily communication with Ba Ria-Vung Tau, Xuyen Moc district, the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, and local healthcare providers.
To perform effectively during these times, three factors were critical in our partnership with government: communication, flexibility, and speed of decision-making. Flexible decision-making and creative solutions are imperative in this challenging environment. The speed of decision making is increasingly important, as a good decision executed aggressively is usually more effective than a great strategy implemented slowly.
Seck Yee Chung - Director, Baker McKenzie Vietnam
This meeting was a good chance for foreign investors and local authorities to understand more about the current situation, and exchange and share ideas about the way that the Vietnam southern economic region is gradually reopening and attracting investment.
It has also covered how to establish a balance between keeping people safe and, at the same time, to let businesses know the latest information on bringing the economy on track.
The local leadership has confirmed its new policy of living with COVID-19, which is a reality which we must follow. At the same time, the government is showing their measures to manage that. The participants agreed that vaccines are the most important thing and we must continue to improve the healthcare system.
All of those activities are quite encouraging. Vaccines are working to minimise the number of seriously sick people. At the same time, safety measures are in place so people are enjoying more freedom of movement now.
The strong voice and actions from the leadership of Vietnam is a key factor in obtaining these results.
Only 1% of American businesses plan to withdraw from Vietnam, according to the latest survey of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam (AmCham Vietnam).
A flash survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam revealed that while many US companies' operations in Vietnam have been affected significantly by the pandemic, the majority do not want to shift production out of Vietnam.