Globalisation and the WTO

A new direction
In 1986, doi moi laid the foundation for Vietnam’s resurgence. Since then, successive Party Congresses and plenums have re-affirmed their commitment to opening up to the world in both words and actions. The collapse of the USSR in 1991 tested that commitment to the full. Apart from being Vietnam’s main source of foreign aid by far, the Soviet bloc was also almost its only market. Despite this set-back, Vietnam forged ahead with reform, opening up new markets and contacts with other countries across the world.

Rapid progress
The results have been impressive. From being dependent on donated foreign rice prior to doi moi, Vietnam sold 2.2 million tonnes abroad in 1994, and is now the world’s second largest exporter. Coffee production had dwindled to almost nothing after the French left. Investment in new plantations during the nineties reinvigorated the industry and made Vietnam the largest supplier of high-quality Robusta beans in the world. The increased production of Arabica beans is now threatening Brazil’s long-held first place in coffee production overall. Heavy and light industry has made huge advances, infrastructure is developing rapidly and tourism is making a significant contribution to GDP.

An average 7% growth rate has raised the standard of living in Vietnam in real terms. Over sixteen million motorbikes clog the roads each day, television is ubiquitous, and one in nine people has a telephone.

Dealing with poverty
Perhaps Vietnam’s greatest success story since re-unification is the remarkable reduction in absolute poverty. From over 50% of families before doi moi, the figure has fallen steadily to below 15%. The policy for poverty alleviation has now become one of eradication!

Joining the international community
At the same time, the country has steadily opened its doors to the world community. Rapprochement with the US in 1993 was a watershed in Vietnam’s international relationships, and opened up access to loans from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Asian Development Bank. Vietnam now trades across the world, has achieved ‘favoured nation’ status with the US, and is lobbying to enter the World Trade Organisation.

The pain of transition
Transition from being a pariah state to integration within the world community has not been trouble free. Structural changes in the economy have been painful for workers, exposure to market fluctuations as subsidies have been withdrawn has caused much hardship, and a widening wealth gap has heightened social tensions. Illicit drugs, HIV/AIDS and organised crime are all on the increase and are placing a strain on the economy. Nevertheless, Vietnam’s answer to the problems of globalisation is further integration, not drawing back.

Weathering globalisation
Despite Vietnam’s positive attitude towards globalisation, it is remarkably free of its excesses. Though rampant commercialism is evident in its cities and towns, the fads, fashions and heavy marketing of the multinational organisations is little in evidence. Whereas other Asian countries have reached out to the icons of consumerism, there are no McDonalds or Starbucks here, and KFC has only a token presence. Despite easy access to MTV and shops full of CDs and DVDs of Western pop music, young people seem to prefer a mixture of home-grown sentimental love songs and loud, repetitive dance music.

Vietnam’s Confucian tradition is innately conservative. Although there is an interest in what happens elsewhere, curiosity does not indicate a general wish to emulate the beliefs, behaviour or appearance of people in other countries. Unless there is a major change in the Vietnamese character, it looks as if the country will reap the benefits of globalisation, but escape its more pernicious manifestations!

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