Potential Trade Effects of Adding Vietnam to the Generalized System of Preferences Program
Potential Trade Effects of Adding Vietnam to the
Generalized System of Preferences Program
Updated October 9, 2008
Michael F. Martin and Vivian C. Jones
Analyst in Asian Trade and Finance,
and Specialist in International Trade and Finance
Foreign Affairs, Defense, and Trade
Potential Trade Effects of Adding Vietnam to the
Generalized System of Preferences Program
In May 2008, Vietnam formally requested to be added to the U.S. Generalized
System of Preferences (GSP) program as a “developing country.” On June 20, 2008,
the office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it was initiating
a formal review of Vietnam’s eligibility for GSP benefits and would accept public
comments on the application until August 4, 2008. Vietnam has already been
accepted into several other developed-country GSP programs around the world,
including Canada, the European Union (EU), and Japan.
The GSP statute provides the President with the authority to designate any
country a beneficiary developing country, provided the country complies with various
trade policy and labor conditions. Congress does not need to act to approve GSP
status for Vietnam. The President is, however, required to notify Congress of his
intention. The inclusion of Vietnam into the GSP program is generally viewed as
another step in the development of closer bilateral relations.
Most of the public comments submitted to the USTR were supportive of
approving Vietnam’s application. However, there were some issues raised that could
cause problems in accepting Vietnam into the GSP program — in particular,
Vietnam’s record on workers’ rights. In addition, Vietnam’s record on human rights
may also have an impact on its application, even though the President is not legally
required to consider this issue when evaluating Vietnam’s application.
If accepted into the GSP program, up to 3,400 different types of exports from
Vietnam could potentially enter into the United States duty-free. While Vietnam’s
leading exports to the United States — knitted and non-knitted clothing — are
deemed “import sensitive” and therefore excluded from GSP eligibility, some of its
fastest growing exports are eligible for duty-free status under the GSP. These exports
include electrical machinery, fruits, and coffee preparations. Imports of these
commodities would likely increase if Vietnam is granted beneficiary developing
country (BDC) status. This could lead to an increase in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit
with Vietnam and a shift in the mix of U.S. imports from Vietnam. It might also
foster a relocation of some assembly operations from China to Vietnam, thereby
reducing the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China.
A one-year extension of the Generalized System of Preferences program was
included in H.R. 7222, which was passed in the House (September 29, 2008 and
October 3, 2008) and Senate (October 2, 2008), and is awaiting the President’s
This report will be updated as circumstances require.
What Is GSP?.....................................................2
Country Eligibility ............................................2
Process for Vietnam............................................4
Evaluating Vietnam’s Prospects......................................4
Compliance with Eligibility Criteria...............................4
Is Vietnam a “Communist Country?...........................5
Action in Congress.............................................8
Public Comments on GSP Status for Vietnam.......................8
Human Rights in Vietnam......................................10
Potential Impact on U.S. Trade......................................11
Issues for Congress...............................................14
List of Figures
Figure 1. U.S. Merchandise Trade with Vietnam, 2000-2007..............12
List of Tables
Table 1. Top Five U.S. Imports from Vietnam, 2007.....................12
Potential Trade Effects of Adding Vietnam to
the Generalized System of Preferences
In May 2008, the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (Vietnam) formally requested
consideration for designation as a “beneficiary developing country” (BDC) under the
United States’ Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program. If accepted into
the GSP program, up to 3,400 different types of exports from Vietnam could
potentially enter into the United States duty-free. While Vietnam’s top export to the
United States — clothing — is not GSP-eligible, other leading exports, such as
electrical machinery, fruits, and coffee preparations, could benefit from Vietnam’s
addition to the GSP program. Vietnam has already been accepted into several other
developed-country GSP programs around the world, including Canada, the European
Union (EU), and Japan.
On June 20, 2008, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced that it was
initiating a review of Vietnam’s eligibility for GSP benefits, and solicited comments1
on the matter until August 4, 2008. Five days later, Vietnam’s Prime Minister
Nguyen Tan Dung raised the issue of Vietnam’s GSP application with President
Bush during his official visit to the White House. In a joint statement issued after
their meeting, “President Bush affirmed that the United States is seriously reviewing
Vietnam’s request to be designated as a beneficiary of the Generalized System of
Preferences program.”2 At the time this report was written, the President had not
announced his decision on Vietnam’s GSP application.
Vietnam’s addition to the U.S. GSP program is generally viewed as another step
in the process of promoting the continued growth of trade relations and expanding
bilateral ties between the two countries. In December 2006, Congress passed and
President Bush signed H.R. 6111 (P.L.109-432), extending permanent normal trade
relations (PNTR) status to Vietnam. On January 11, 2007, Vietnam acceded into
membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO). On June 21, 2007, the two3
nations concluded a Trade and Investment Framework Agreement (TIFA). During
their summit meeting (the fourth such meeting in four years), Prime Minister Dung
and President Bush also discussed initiating negotiations of a Bilateral Investment
Treaty (BIT). Vietnam has also expressed an interest in eventually negotiating a Free
Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States.
1 73 F.R. 35173, June 20, 2008.
2 White House, Office of the President, “Joint Statement Between the United States of
America and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,” Press Release, June 25, 2008.
3 The text of the U.S.-Vietnam TIFA is available on the USTR’s web page at
[http://www.ustr.gov/assets/T rade_Agr eements/T IFA/asset_upload_file81_12935.pdf].
What Is GSP?
The Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) provides non-reciprocal
preferential tariff treatment to certain products imported from designated developing
countries. The United States, the European Union, and other developed countries
implemented such programs in the 1970s in order to promote economic growth in
developing countries by stimulating their exports. The U.S. program was established
by Title V of the Trade Act of 1974 (P.L. 93-618) for a 10-year period. Since then,
Congress has extended the program nine times, most recently through December 31,4
year extension of GSP in section 4 of H.R. 7222, and the measure is awaiting the
The basic principle behind the GSP is to provide certain goods originating in
developing countries with preferential market access (usually in the form of lower
tariff rates or duty-free status) to developed country markets in order to spur
economic growth. The program was first adopted internationally in 1968 by the
United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) at the UNCTAD
In general, the U.S. GSP program authorizes the President to grant duty-free
treatment under the GSP for any eligible product from any beneficiary developing
country (BDC) or least-developed beneficiary developing country (LDBDC). The
statute provides the President with specific political and economic criteria to use
when designating eligible countries and products.5
Under the GSP eligibility criteria, there are certain mandatory factors that may
not be waived. First, certain developed countries are specifically excluded.6 Other
mandatory criteria require exclusion of any country that:
!is “Communist,” unless it has normal trade relation status with the
United States; is a member in the World Trade Organization (WTO)
and the International Monetary Fund (IMF); and it is “not dominated
or controlled by international communism”;
!engages in actions that would restrict or raise prices of vital
4 19 U.S.C. §§ 2461-2467, as amended.
5 19 U.S.C. § 2462; section 502 of P.L. 93-618, as amended. For a more detailed discussion
of the GSP program, see CRS Report RL33663, Generalized System of Preferences:
Background and Renewal Debate, by Vivian C. Jones.
6 These countries are Australia, Canada, European Union member states, Iceland, Japan,
Monaco, New Zealand, Norway, and Switzerland.
!provides trade preferences to developed countries other than the
United States which has, or is likely to have, a significant adverse
effect on United States commerce.
Other mandatory criteria may be waived “if the President determines that such
designation will be in the national economic interest of the United States and reports
such determination to the Congress with the reasons therefor.” These criteria
preclude countries that:
!have nationalized or expropriated the property of U.S. citizens or
!have failed to acknowledge or enforce arbitral awards that are in
!aided or abetted individuals or groups that have engaged in
!have not taken steps to provide its workers with internationally
recognized worker rights; or
!have not taken steps to “eliminate the worst forms of child labor.”7
Other discretionary factors that the President may consider when deciding to
confer BDC status are: (1) the desire of the country to be designated; (2) the level of
economic development of the country, including gross national product (GNP) and
living standards; (3) whether other developed countries offer similar tariff benefits
to the country; (4) the degree to which the country has agreed to provide equitable
and reasonable access to its markets, commodities, and resources; (5) the level of
protection it provides to intellectual property; (6) the extent to which it has reduced
barriers to trade and investment; and (7) the degree to which it has provided its
workers with workers rights including collective bargaining, a minimum age for child
labor, and prohibition of forced labor or the worst forms of child labor.8
The President is authorized to designate products as eligible for GSP treatment
after consultation with the International Trade Commission.9 Products are designated
generally for all GSP recipients to the extent that countries have not exceeded
statutory limits for importing certain products. Product eligibility under GSP is also
restricted in the law by several factors. First, the GSP statute specifically excludes
certain categories of goods as “import-sensitive,” including textiles and apparel;
certain watches; footwear and other accessories; certain electronics, steel, and glass
products; and certain agricultural products subject to tariff-rate quotas.10
Second, the law establishes automatic “competitive need limits” (CNLs) that
require the President to suspend GSP treatment if imports of a product from a single
7 19 U.S.C. § 2462, as amended.
9 19 U.S.C. § 2463(a)(1).
10 19 U.S.C. § 2463(b).
country reach a specified threshold value ($135 million in 2008) or if 50% or more
of total U.S. imports of a product entering under GSP come from a single country
(unless a waiver is granted).11 Third, GSP rules of origin only allow duty-free entry
if the article is imported directly from the beneficiary country, and at least 35% of the
value (of materials and/or processing) of an eligible product is the “growth, product,
or manufacture” of a beneficiary developing country.12
Process for Vietnam
An evaluation of Vietnam’s eligibility for GSP status began with a Federal
Register notice announcing the review.13 Public comments were solicited from June
20, 2008 to August 4, 2008.14 A subsequent review to determine whether Vietnam
complies with the statutory requirements for designation as a GSP beneficiary will
be administered by the GSP Subcommittee of the Trade Policy Staff Committee
(TPSC), an interagency group chaired by the USTR.15 The USTR may also, as
necessary, request that the International Trade Commission evaluate the potential
trade effects of Vietnam’s GSP request.16 At the conclusion of the review, the TPSC
will present its findings to the USTR, who will, in turn, present a recommendation
to the President. The final decision to grant Vietnam GSP eligibility or not will be
made by the President.
Evaluating Vietnam’s Prospects
Vietnam’s acceptance into the U.S. GSP program will hinge on a combination
of the TPSC’s evaluation (and the President’s subsequent approval) of Vietnam’s
compliance with these eligibility criteria, and the perceived acceptability of including
Vietnam as a beneficiary developing country.
Compliance with Eligibility Criteria
There may be some ambiguity regarding Vietnam’s compliance with both the
mandatory and discretionary GSP criteria. For the four mandatory criteria, the most
debatable issue may be its classification as a “Communist country,” and more
11 19 U.S.C. § 2463(c).
12 19 U.S.C. § 2463(a)(2).
13 73 F.R. 35173, June 20, 2008.
14 Public comments concerning Vietnam’s GSP eligibility are posted on the USTR website:
w_to_Consider_Des i gn a t i o n _of_Socialist_Re public_of_V ietnam_as_a_Beneficiary_Dev
15 The TPSC was established by Section 242 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 (19 U.S.C.
§ 1872) and implemented by Executive Order 12188, as amended. The President delegated
the administration of the GSP program to the committee in sec. 8 of Executive Order 11846,
16 19 C.F.R. § 2007.2(e).
specifically whether or not it is controlled or dominated by “international
communism.” For the waivable criteria, the most likely source of challenges is
Vietnam’s record in providing workers with internationally recognized workers’
Is Vietnam a “Communist Country?” U.S. federal law does not currently
include a specific definition of what constitutes a “Communist country.” The concept
of Communism has two distinct common definitions — one political and one
economic. The political definition typically hinges on the domination of society’s
political system by a single and self-perpetuating party. The economic definition is
usually based on the holding of all property in common, with the ownership being
ascribed to the community as a whole or to the state.
Politically, the Vietnamese government does not refer to itself as communist
country, but as socialist republic. However, Vietnam is a one-party state controlled
by the Communist Party of Vietnam (VCP). Since the mid-1990s, the VCP appears
to have followed a strategy of permitting most forms of personal and religious
expression while selectively repressing individuals and organizations that it deems
a threat to the party’s monopoly on power.
Economically, Vietnam has been steadily transforming its centrally planned
economy into a market economy, and has allowed the creation and growth of private
enterprise. Vietnam’s constitution and civil code recognize and protect private
property rights. Yet, government influence and control over Vietnam’s economy still17
remains comparatively high.
Even if Vietnam were determined to be a “Communist country,” GSP statutory
provisions specify that it can still qualify for GSP status if it is a member of the WTO
and IMF, received NTR status from the United States, and is found to be “not
dominated or controlled by international communism.” Vietnam is a recent member
of the WTO (date of accession January 11, 2007) and a member of long-standing in
the IMF (since September 1956). In December 2006, Vietnam was conferred
permanent NTR status by the United States. In addition, given that the Soviet Union
and its Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) no longer exist, it is
unclear how to define what constitutes “domination or control by international
Workers’ Rights. Among the five mandatory, but waivable, criteria,
Vietnam’s recognition of internationally-accepted workers’ rights may prove to be
the most controversial. Prior to the 1986 advent of doi moi, Vietnam’s process of
market-oriented economic renovation, there were many allegations about substandard
working conditions in Vietnam, including “sweatshop” working conditions, the use
of child labor, and severe restrictions on the right of association and collective
17 For more information, see CRS Report RL33316, U.S.-Vietnam Relations: Background
and Issues for Congress, by Mark Manyin.
bargaining.18 Since then, the Vietnamese government is generally perceived to have
made concerted efforts to comply with internationally-recognized labor standards.
In its statement of support for GSP designation, the Vietnamese government
focused on its partnership with the International Labor Organization (ILO) and its
ratification of several of the ILO’s conventions as demonstrating its commitment to
comply with international labor rights standards. Vietnam rejoined the ILO as a
member state in 1992 and has worked with the ILO in drafting new labor laws,
including the 1994 Labor Code. In addition, Vietnam has ratified five of the eight
fundamental ILO conventions — covering compulsory labor, income inequality,
discrimination, minimum age, and the worst forms of child labor — and an additional
12 other ILO conventions. Vietnam reported it is considering ratification of two more
conventions, concerning the freedom of association and the right to collective
bargaining. In addition, the United States and Vietnam signed a Memorandum of
Understanding regarding labor cooperation in November 2000, which has fostered
the exchange in technical expertise and training on a broad range of labor issues.
Freedom of Association. Despite the aforementioned efforts by the
Vietnamese government, critics still maintain that working conditions remain below
international standards. In particular, Vietnam has been criticized for its failure to
allow independent labor unions and respect the right of association. At present, all
labor unions in Vietnam must be a member of the Vietnam General Confederation
of Labor (VGCL). Efforts to organize independent unions in Vietnam reportedly
have been thwarted by government suppression, including the arrest and
imprisonment of union leaders. In Vietnam’s GSP submission, the government
maintains that “the Vietnam Constitution of 1992, along with other domestic laws,
guarantees that workers have the right of association” and that “citizens are entitled
to freedom of speech and freedom of the press; they have the right to receive
information and the right of assembly, association and demonstration in accordance
with the law.”19
Despite the provisions in Vietnam’s constitution, some observers maintain that
the ability of workers to form independent unions has, to some extent, been thwarted.
According to Amnesty International, two days after Tran Quoc Hien was chosen as
spokesperson for the United Workers-Farmers Organization (UWFO) in January
2007, he was arrested. The Vietnamese authorities claimed that he and his
accomplices incited demonstrations and posted “distorted” articles on the Internet.
On May 15, 2007, Tran Quoc Hien was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment plus
18 For more information about pre-Doi Moi working conditions in Vietnam, see CRS Report
RL30896, Vietnam’s Labor Rights Regime: An Assessment, by Mark Manyin, Thomas Lum,
Lois McHugh, Phuong-Khanh Nguyen, and Wendy Zeldin.
19 Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. “Statement re Supporting
Documentation [of GSP Status],” May 9, 2008, p. 9.
two years’ probation.20 Human Rights Watch also reports that some leaders of
independent unions have been arrested, harassed and intimidated.21
Other observers conclude that since the launch of the doi moi reforms, worker
rights have made progress despite the restrictions on the right to organize. In
addition, hundreds of unaffiliated (and therefore unofficial) “labor associations” have
sprouted without significant repression, and in many recent cases, Vietnamese
workers went on strike reportedly because they felt that they were not well-
represented by the official union.
Workers in Vietnam have the legal right to collective bargaining; the VGCL is
supposed to organize a union within six months of the establishment of any new
business, regardless of its ownership — state, foreign, or private. According to the
State Department’s 2007 Country Report on Human Rights Practices, “In actuality
only 85 percent of state-owned enterprises, 60 percent of foreign-invested enterprises,
and 30 percent of private enterprises were unionized.”
Right to Strike. According to the government of Vietnam, strikes are not
uncommon in Vietnam, and the Labor Code was amended in late 2006 in order to
clarify the cases in which a strike may occur (i.e., after a legally mandated dispute22
resolution process has been carried out). Vietnamese officials also maintain that
there are many strikes in Vietnam, and that even in cases where strikes are deemed23
“illegal,” the law prohibits retribution against strikers.
There reportedly were nearly 400 strikes in Vietnam in the first eight months of
In most cases, the workers have struck for higher wages and better working
conditions. Many of the strikes have occurred at foreign-owned enterprises,25
particularly at South Korean and Taiwanese manufacturing facilities. The
Vietnamese government — led by the Ministry of Labor, War Invalids and Social
Affairs (MoLISA) — for the most part has not moved against the strikes, despite the
fact that many have been technically illegal.
20 “Vietnam: Internet Writer Tran Quoc Hien Sentenced,” English Pen, May 25, 2007.
21 Testimony by Sophie Richardson, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch, before
the House Committee on Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on International Organizations,
Human Rights, and Oversight, November 6, 2007.
22 Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. “Statement re Supporting
Documentation [of GSP Status],” May 9, 2008, p. 10.
24 “Solutions to Labourers’ Strikes Require Efforts from All Sides,” Vietnam Net, September
25 Author’s interview with unnamed industrial sources.
Action in Congress
Many in Congress continue to be concerned about Vietnam’s human rights
record. On October 1, 2008, Senator Barbara Boxer introduced S. 3678, the Vietnam
Human Rights Act of 2008. Among other things, this bill seeks to prohibit the
President from granting GSP benefits to Vietnam unless the President determines and
certifies to Congress that the Government of Vietnam (1) fully protects the right of
freedom of association in both law and practice; and (2) does not practice or condone
serious violations of workers’ rights, including detention, harassment, or arrest of
labor activists or of individuals who write, speak, or otherwise disseminate
information on labor rights.
Others in Congress see the granting of GSP status to Vietnam as an important
foreign policy tool, much like the U.S. grant of PNTR status to Vietnam and U.S.
support of its WTO accession. First, some see the value in continuing to expand
relations with a country that continues to have an ambivalent relationship with
China.26 Second, many also believe that continued engagement with Vietnam in the
commercial policy arena can serve as an indirect encouragement for the government
to promote increased pluralism, accountability, and adherence to the “rule of law.”27
Some believe that continued normalization of relations with Vietnam is also
symbolically important because it places greater distance between the U.S.-Vietnam
relationship and the legacy of the Vietnam war.28
Public Comments on GSP Status for Vietnam
As part of the process of assessing Vietnam’s suitability for the GSP program,
the USTR accepted public comments until August 4, 2008. Over 20 different
organizations and companies submitted comments. Eighteen of the commentators
supported Vietnam’s acceptance in the GSP program; two opposed it; and three
expressed some reservations, but stopped short of stating their opposition.
Supporters of adding Vietnam as a BDC in the GSP program generally pointed
to several factors. They maintained that it would be beneficial to both Vietnam and
the United States economically and politically. In addition, it would help raise many
of the people of Vietnam out of poverty — one of the principal goals of the GSP
program. The supporters also pointed to Vietnam’s doi moi policies as evidence of
its compliance with the GSP eligibility and then indicated that acceptance into the
GSP program would help progress Vietnam’s transformation into a market economy.
Some indicated that by including Vietnam in the GSP program, U.S. companies
would have a feasible alternative to locating manufacturing facilities in China, which
would improve their competitiveness in the global market and potentially reduce the
U.S. trade deficit with China. Others cautioned that the exclusion of Vietnam from
26 CRS Report RL33490, Vietnam PNTR Status and WTO Accession: Issues and
Implications for the United States, by Mark E. Manyin and William H. Cooper (Archived).
the GSP program might hinder the ability of U.S. companies to compete for
investment opportunities in Vietnam.
Three commentators — the American Federation of Labor and Congress of
Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the International Intellectual Property Alliance
(IIPA), and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA)
— pointed out problems or issues with Vietnam’s compliance with the GSP
eligibility criteria, but did not directly state their opposition to adding Vietnam to the
program. The AFL-CIO’s criticisms focused on its assessment that “much more
needs to be done to bring its [Vietnam’s] labor laws and practices in line with
internationally recognized worker rights.”29 In particular, the AFL-CIO cited
continuing problems with Vietnamese workers’ freedom of association, their right
to organize and bargain collectively, restrictions on the ability to strike, and problems
in working conditions (minimum wage enforcement, excessive working hours, and
unsafe working conditions).
The IIPA’s comments centered on Vietnam’s compliance with the intellectual
property rights (IPR) standards and market access requirements for GSP eligibility.30
On IPR protection, the IIPA maintained that 90% of business software and 95% of
records and music in Vietnam are pirate copies. In addition, the IIPA stated that
Vietnam continues to restrict foreign access to its motion picture, home video,
broadcast, and music/sound recording markets. Despite their apparent misgivings
about Vietnam’s GSP application, the IIPA suggests that it be granted one year of
eligibility, with renewal subject to a review of Vietnam’s progress on IPR protection.
The submission by PhRMA also focused on the issue of IPR protection in
Vietnam, but with an emphasis on its application to pharmaceuticals.31 Specific
topics raised by PhRMA in its comments included IPR enforcement, data exclusivity,
trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and “trade dress” violations.32 PhRMA also
expressed concern about market access and pricing restrictions in Vietnam’s
There were two submissions to USTR — one by the U.S. Committee to Protect
Vietnamese Workers (CPVW) and another by the U.S. producers of polyethylene
carrier bags — that opposed GSP for Vietnam. The U.S. Committee to Protect
Vietnamese Workers was established by a group of overseas Vietnamese “to protect
29 Comments by AFL-CIO and other organizations on Vietnam’s GSP Application,
submitted to USTR on August 4, 2008; available online at [http://www.ustr.gov/assets/
_of_Socialist_Republic_of_V ietnam_as_a_Bene ficiary_Deve loping_Coun t r y_ Under_the
32 “Trade dress” refers to the physical appearance — color, shape, textile, graphics, and/or
size — of a product.
the rights and interests of all Vietnamese workers.”33 In their comments to USTR,
the CPVW indicated that it supported acceptance of Vietnam into the GSP program
“in principle,” but opposed the acceptance in practice because “Vietnam has not met
even the basic GSP criteria on labor.” The CPVW maintained that Vietnam failed
to meet the eligibility criteria for the right of association, the right of assembly, the
right to organize and bargain collectively, the prohibition of forced or compulsory
labor, minimum age requirements and child labor, working conditions, and
compensation requirements. The CPVW concluded their comments with a list of
seven specific conditions to be met before granting GSP eligibility to Vietnam.
The comments in opposition by the U.S. producers of polyethylene carrier bags
focused on the reputed damage to their industry from the recent rapid increase in
plastic bag imports from China, Malaysia, and Thailand. According to their
submission, antidumping duties on plastic bag imports from those three countries
have slowed import growth, but have also led to a relocation of operations to
Vietnam. Based on their reported experience, the U.S. producers requested that
“Vietnam be precluded from seeking GSP treatment” for polyethylene carrier bags.
Human Rights in Vietnam
Legally, the human rights conditions of a country do not have to be considered
by the President when making a decision on its application for GSP eligibility.
However, the issue of human rights in Vietnam has been an important factor in every
previous case when the United States has considered strengthening bilateral trade
It is difficult to make country-wide generalizations about the state of human
rights in Vietnam. On the one hand, the VCP has permitted the growth of an
independent press, so long as its criticism of the government is limited to issues such
as corruption, economic policy, nature conservation and environmental pollution.
Similarly, the Vietnamese government has generally allowed the freedom of worship,
regardless of faith, so long as the religious organization registers with the authorities.
As of 2006, Vietnam was no longer listed as a “country of particular concern” (CPC)
in the State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report.
On the other hand, the VCP regularly represses groups and individuals it
perceives as a potential threat to its political power. Human Rights Watch claims that
the Vietnamese government cracked down on democracy advocates during U.S.
Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte’s September 2008 trip to Vietnam,
detaining and interrogating “at least a dozen” activists.34 Earlier in September, the
Vietnamese government broke up a protest in Hanoi organized by Catholics who
claim that a previously state-owned company (since privatized) had unlawfully been
33 Quote from the organization’s home page — [http://www.protectvietworkers.com/].
34 “Vietnam: New Round of Arrests Target Democracy Activists,” Human Rights Watch,
September 12, 2008.
given land belonging to a Catholic church.35 In July 2008, there were reported
tensions between the Vietnamese government and the banned Unified Buddhist
Church of Vietnam in making the funeral arrangements for their late patriarch, Thich
Potential Impact on U.S. Trade
Projecting the impact of Vietnam becoming a BDC under the U.S. GSP program
on its bilateral trade with the United States is difficult for a variety of technical
reasons.37 Scholarly studies of both the U.S. and EU GSP programs on developing
countries’ exports have come to differing conclusions. However, the rapid rise in
bilateral trade following the U.S. extension of NTR to Vietnam may indicate that
Vietnam’s exports to the United States will increase if it becomes a BDC. The impact
on U.S. exports to Vietnam is less certain.
Scholarly studies have also come to conflicting conclusions of the impact of the
GSP program on international trade flows. Depending on the methodology used and
the assumptions made, the studies have estimated the trade effect for GSP-eligible38
products as ranging from being negligible to increasing by over 60%. For example,
a 2006 study of EU trade preference programs estimated that the EU GSP program39
“does not significantly increase exports” for beneficiary countries. Most of the
studies calculated a less than 20% increase in GSP-eligible product exports.
Although studies may differ on the trade effects of GSP programs, recent
bilateral trade figures provide some evidence that the liberalization of U.S. trade
relations with Vietnam does foster greater trade flows, particularly an increase in
U.S. imports. Following the December 10, 2001 grant of NTR status to Vietnam,
official U.S. trade statistics indicate that U.S. total merchandise trade with Vietnam
doubled from $1.5 billion in 2001 to $3.0 billion in 2002 (See Figure 1). During that
same time period, U.S. imports from Vietnam rose from $1.1 billion to $2.4 billion.
By comparison, the increase in U.S. imports between 2000 and 2001 was just over
$230 million. U.S. exports to Vietnam, by contrast, rose only slightly — increasing
by less than $120 million — a comparable amount to the increase between 2000 and
2001. While acceptance into the U.S. GSP program is not as dramatic shift in trade
status as NTR, the growth in post-NTR trade flows indicate that granting Vietnam
35 Nga Pham, “Prayers and Protests in Vietnam,” BBC News, September 2, 2008.
36 “Funeral Services Held for Dissident Patriarch of Banned Vietnamese Buddhist Church,”
Associated Press, July 11, 2008.
37 For an explanation of the technical problems of conducting such a projection, see Craig
R. MacPhee and Victor Iwuagwu Oguledo, “The Trade Effects of the U.S. Generalized
System of Preference,” Atlantic Economic Journal, December 1991, Vol. 19, No. 4, pp. 19-
38 MacPhee and Oguledo, op. cit.
39 Maria Persson and Fredrik Wilhelmsson, “Assessing the Effects of EU Trade Preferences
for Developing Countries,” Working Papers, Lund University, Department of Economics,
BDC status under the Generalized System of Preferences should increase its exports
to the United States.
Figure 1. U.S. Merchandise Trade with Vietnam, 2000-2007
(U.S. $ Billions)
2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007
Source: U.S. International Trade Commission.
Determining which Vietnamese exports will increase if the United States
approves Vietnam’s GSP application is also difficult. It would logical to assume that
most of Vietnam’s export growth will occur among the GSP-eligible products. An
examination of recent trade data, however, reveals that many of Vietnam’s top
exports are not GSP-eligible.
According to U.S. trade statistics, over 40% of U.S. imports from Vietnam in
2007 were articles of apparel (see Table 1). The next two top U.S. imports from
Vietnam — furniture and footwear — together contributed another 20%. The fifth
largest import from Vietnam in 2007 was crude oil. Taken together, the top five
product categories accounted for over two-thirds of U.S. imports from Vietnam in
Table 1. Top Five U.S. Imports from Vietnam, 2007
Knitted or Crocheted Clothing (61)$2,154,742,77120.3%
Non-knitted or Crocheted Clothing (62)$2,137,930,58620.1%
Petroleum and Mineral Fuels (27)$776,072,5167.3%
Source: U.S. International Trade Commission. Numbers in parentheses refer to HTS chapter.
Vietnam’s current top exports to the United States are unlikely to benefit from
Vietnam’s acceptance into the U.S. GSP program. Very few articles of apparel are
GSP-eligible. Similarly, only a select group of furniture items are GSP-eligible —
mostly light fixtures and mattresses. Footwear is also an import category that is
largely excluded from the GSP program, as is crude oil. Therefore, Vietnam’s top
five exports to the United States are not likely to benefit from duty-free access under
Some of Vietnam’s fastest growing exports to the United States, however, may
benefit from duty-free access under GSP. Among Vietnam’s top exports — product
categories that provided more than 0.5% of U.S. imports from Vietnam — the growth
leaders between 2000 and 2007 were: soaps (HTS40 chapter 34), plastics and articles
of plastic (39), paper and paper products (48), headgear (65), machinery (84), and
electrical machinery (85). A comparison of these six product categories to the 2007
list of GSP-eligible items reveals that three of these product categories — soaps,
plastics and articles of plastic, machinery, and electrical machinery — are generally
GSP-eligible, implying a greater likelihood of growth. Paper and paper products, as
well as headgear, are not typically eligible for GSP benefits, so there is little chance
of trade gains in these product categories.
The possibility of GSP eligibility may have the greatest implication for
Vietnam’s machinery and electrical machinery industries, since the Vietnamese
government has been actively promoting its nation to overseas investors as a good
location for machinery and electrical machinery operations. In addition, rising
production costs in other parts of Asia — especially in China — are leading
manufacturers to explore alternative locations for their Asian operations. Chinese
companies, in particular, facing rising labor costs and the strengthening of the
renminbi (RMB) against the U.S. dollar, may find the added bonus of GSP eligibility
an incentive to relocate their final assembly operations to Vietnam. Such a shift
could partially offset the general rise in the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with China, but
would also increase the U.S. bilateral trade deficit with Vietnam. However, all of
these trade effects would be limited in size by the competitive need limits (CNLs).
Vietnam’s designation as a BDC under the GSP is likely to have little effect on
U.S. producers of import-competing products, because domestic producers are
largely shielded from severe economic impact under the preference due to the CNLs
and other restrictions. Furthermore, if U.S. manufacturers of a product are adversely
impacted by imports under GSP, they may petition that the product be removed from
40 Harmonized Tariff Schedule.
U.S. exports to Vietnam may increase if Vietnam is designated as a BDC, but
not as quickly as imports. Since the GSP is a non-reciprocal program, acceptance of
Vietnam as a BDC will not provide similar duty-free treatment for U.S. exporters. In
2007, the United States exported about $2 billion in goods to Vietnam, up from
approximately $368 million in 2000. Leading U.S. exports to Vietnam in 2007
included passenger motor vehicles, cotton, polypropylene, leather, and wheat.
However, many U.S. manufacturers use imports under GSP (such as wiring
harnesses, brake and ignition parts, spectacle lenses, and insulated electrical
conductors) as inputs for finished products that could later be exported to Vietnam
and other GSP beneficiaries.
Issues for Congress
The GSP statute provides the President with the authority to designate any
country a beneficiary developing country, provided the country complies with the
conditions described in the statute. Therefore, Congress does not need to act to
approve GSP status for Vietnam. The President is required to notify Congress of his
The Generalized System of Preferences program was set to expire on December
31, 2008, but was granted a one-year extension in sec. 4 of H.R. 7222 (passed House
September 29, 2008, and October 3, 2008; passed Senate October 2, 2008). The
legislation is awaiting the President’s signature as of this writing.
Congress could also decide to authorize or instruct the President to designate —
or not to designate — Vietnam as a BDC, either as part of the legislation to extend
the GSP program or in separate legislation. For example, S. 3678, the Vietnam
Human Rights Act of 2008, would prohibit the grant of GSP status unless the
President certifies that Vietnam has met certain human rights conditions. In addition,
Congress could pass legislation stipulating additional criteria for the President to
consider when deciding to confer BDC status to Vietnam. Such legislation could
also include specific restrictions on GSP-eligible products for Vietnam and/or the
size of CNLs.
Over the past decade, Congress has debated a number of issues with respect to
U.S.-Vietnam relations, particularly Vietnam’s growing and increasingly liberalized
economy and its human rights record. The United States also has a sizeable and
growing foreign assistance program in Vietnam, and the two countries are expanding
their strategic relations. All these issues may factor into the debate over GSP
41 Under the provisions of 19 U.S.C. 2462(f)(1), the President must notify Congress 60 days
prior to the designation of a least-developed BDC; no time period is specified for BDC