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Economic Overview

Vietnam is a densely populated developing country that has been transitioning since 1986 from the rigidities of a centrally planned, highly agrarian economy to a more industrial and market based economy, and it has raised incomes substantially. Vietnam exceeded its 2017 GDP growth target of 6.7% with growth of 6.8%, primarily due to unexpected increases in domestic demand, and strong manufacturing exports.

Vietnam has a young population, stable political system, commitment to sustainable growth, relatively low inflation, stable currency, strong FDI inflows, and strong manufacturing sector. In addition, the country is committed to continuing its global economic integration. Vietnam joined the WTO in January 2007 and concluded several free trade agreements in 2015-16, including the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (which the EU has not yet ratified), the Korean Free Trade Agreement, and the Eurasian Economic Union Free Trade Agreement. In 2017, Vietnam successfully chaired the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Conference with its key priorities including inclusive growth, innovation, strengthening small and medium enterprises, food security, and climate change. Seeking to diversify its opportunities, Vietnam also signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for the Transpacific Partnership in 2018 and continued to pursue the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.

To continue its trajectory of strong economic growth, the government acknowledges the need to spark a ‘second wave’ of reforms, including reforming state-owned-enterprises, reducing red tape, increasing business sector transparency, reducing the level of non-performing loans in the banking sector, and increasing financial sector transparency. Vietnam’s public debt to GDP ratio is nearing the government mandated ceiling of 65%.

In 2016, Vietnam cancelled its civilian nuclear energy development program, citing public concerns about safety and the high cost of the program; it faces growing pressure on energy infrastructure. Overall, the country’s infrastructure fails to meet the needs of an expanding middle class. Vietnam has demonstrated a commitment to sustainable growth over the last several years, but despite the recent speed-up in economic growth the government remains cautious about the risk of external shocks.