IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Experts
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Gemalink - Vietnam’s deepest and largest port to date. (Photo VNA)
Joining IPEF, the new high-standard economic cooperation framework with the participation of strong power like the US and other countries in the Indo-Pacific, could help Vietnam overcome numerous challenges posed by the sluggish global economy, says Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales (Canberra).
“Vietnam will face the risk of lagging behind unless it seizes the opportunity to join the IPEF and strengthen its capabilities, especially in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, digital economy, and evolving supply chains,” Thayer emphasizes.
In addition, collaborating with the US could potentially facilitate or contribute to Vietnam’s attainment of market economy status, which it has yet to receive and thus, the IPEF would be a fantastic boon for Vietnamese goods, making them even more affordable to enter the US market, according to Thayer.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Carl Thayer, Emeritus Professor at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Australia. (Photo: VNA)
Professor Stephen Nagy at the International Christian University (Tokyo) shares Thayer’s view and also highlights further the significance of the IPEF in strengthening intra-ASEAN integration as Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand are already the signatories to this framework.
Apart from increasing trade exchanges among ASEAN member states, and promoting the sharing of norms for trade and economic engagement within the bloc, IPEF would help Vietnam address many emerging issues such as climate change, supply chain resilience, clean energy transition, and even anti-corruption.
In November 2023 in San Francisco, President Vo Van Thuong made clear in his address at the APEC dialogue’s discussion session that Vietnam considers climate change response a top priority in the national development policy and the country has strongly committed to net-zero emissions by 2050, methane emission reduction, forest protection, and clean energy transition.
IPEF’s four key pillars fit Vietnam’s ambitions perfectly.
IPEF’s clean economy pillar, with the participation of two green technology power houses like the US and Japan, has appeared very attractive to Vietnam as it will help the country speed up its green transition to establish a more environmentally sustainable, efficient, and resilient economy, given the fact that Vietnam is highly vulnerable to climate change, with the hardest-hit area being the Mekong Delta, Professor Nagy points out.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Professor Stephen Nagy at the International Christian University, Tokyo, Japan. (Source: Embassy of Canada in Vietnam)
According to the World Bank, without adequate mitigation measures, Vietnam could face significant economic losses due to climate change. By 2050, the country could experience an annual loss of approximately 12-14.5% of its GDP, while up to one million individuals could be exposed to extreme poverty by 2030.
Besides, joining the IPEF will create a platform for deeper cooperation among the signatories, which means it will offer opportunities to Vietnam as a manufacturing hub in the global supply chain.
Amitendu Palit, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore, says Vietnam has emerged as a highly attractive destination for businesses operating in the Indo-Pacific region, particularly those from the IPEF member countries, who are looking at Vietnam as a favourable location for expanding their supply chain activities.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Amitendu Palit, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies at the National University of Singapore. (NUS) (Source: NUS)
“Vietnam’s ability to provide trained labour for specific industrial operations, an investor-friendly atmosphere and good foreign relations can make it a very important location for reorganisation of critical supply chains in the IPEF,” Palit assesses.
The engagement in IPEF, according to Professor Thayer, also opens up possibilities for Vietnam to progress beyond its current role of assembling and packaging computer chips into semiconductors. In the next decade, Vietnam can strive to become an innovator and leader in designing and adding values to computer chips.
Through IPEF, Vietnam can gain access to expertise, technology, training, and legal frameworks, which will contribute to the enhancement of labour skills and technological capabilities.
Regarding the fair economy pillar of the IPEF, it will create a level playing field to promote transparency and equitable competition. This aspect will facilitate increased investment and enhance the competitive edge of participants.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Tran Thi Thuy Linh, a researcher of IPEF and currently a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam. (Photo: VNA)
Tran Thi Thuy Linh, a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam who has done substantive research on IPEF says that engaging in IPEF’s fair economy pillar could provide Vietnam with opportunities for transparency enhancement, information exchanges, capacity building, and technical assistance, given that Vietnam has long struggled to create an effective tax system and anti-corruption mechanisms.
In fact, Vietnam has made significant progress in anti-corruption thanks to strong political determination. The country’s upward movement in the corruption perceptions index (CPI) report in 2022 by Transparency International indicates that Vietnam’s efforts in combating corruption have resulted in significant changes recognised by international experts. Vietnam was one of the 25 countries that saw an improvement in the ranking, gaining 3 points and moving up 10 places compared to the previous ranking.
But experts acknowledge that there is still considerable work ahead for the country to catch up with this pillar. It requires additional time and effort to implement comprehensive reforms, strengthen regulatory frameworks, enhance top-to-bottom governance, and promote a level playing field for businesses.
IPEF: Forging a path ahead
In a nut shell, the US-led economic framework is to create a mechanism that ensures a shared high-standard environment and foster mutual benefits for all members. But insiders warn interested countries that joining IPEF is like taking a plunge into the ocean where swimmers have to be strong enough to survive; to thrive in the global economy, strength and resilience are vital for all participants, and Vietnam is not alien.
Phan Cao Nhat Anh, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam Institute of India and Southwest Asian Studies (VIISAS) under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS) says Vietnam’s engagement in the IPEF negotiations is aimed to mobilize optimal domestic and foreign resources for national construction and development but the country must be prudent to ensure the new commitment consistent with national interests and comprehensive development strategy.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Phan Cao Nhat Anh, Deputy Director General of the Vietnam Institute of India and Southwest Asian Studies under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences (VASS). (Photo courtesy of Phan Cao Nhat Anh)
According to Nhat Anh, much progress has been made so far in the US-led economic framework, with negotiations completed on three pillars of supply chain, clean economy and fair economy. However, a number of issues remain unresolved in the trade category such as the different interests of individual economies that require further active efforts to achieve consensus.
It will also be difficult to reach consensus with the IPEF partners if Vietnam sets low standards for environment and labour issues. “It is crucial for Vietnam to keep up its efforts to enhance labour quality and refine regulatory and institutional frameworks pertaining to digital trade,” Nhat Anh says.
Regarding the trade pillar of the IPEF, Professor Thayer says it holds a lot of unsettled issues, especially labour standards, environmental standards, and compliance issues, not to mention the sensitive issue lying in determining the course of action if a member fails to fulfill their obligations.
Thayer says labour and environmental standards are subject to mutual agreement. This implies a trade-off for mutual benefit. Since the IPEF is not a multilateral free trade agreement and the US is not offering market access, the US will need to offer attractive training, capacity building, technical assistance and infrastructure investment packages as incentives for countries like Vietnam to cover the costs of domestic regulatory reform.
He suggests Vietnam adopt a wait-and-see policy while negotiating with other IPEF members for a clarification from the US on how developing countries will be compensated for the costs of meeting high labour and environmental standards.
“The main issue for Vietnam is to increase access to the US market either bilaterally or through the IPEF because the US is not a member of the CPTPP or the RCEP”, Thayer notes.
Bich Tran, Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C., agrees to this point, saying it is challenging for countries to negotiate the trade pillar as they have diverse priorities and capabilities.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: Bich Tran, Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. (Photo: VNA)
“Higher standards will increase the costs for businesses. Besides, without market access to the US, many countries do not see the incentive to conform to those standards”, Bich points out.
She recommends Vietnam to opt out the trade pillar but joining the other three, or considering higher labour and environment standards required under the trade pillar as a way to attract future investment and joining the framework fully.
|IPEF is a new way ahead for Vietnam: A campaign launched to plant 20 hectares of mangrove forest in the Mekong Delta province of Soc Trang – one of the hardest-hit areas by climate change in Vietnam. (Photo: VNA)
As the IPEF continues to evolve, it's high time Vietnam should study the new mechanism thoroughly, consult and share information with relevant countries to facilitate the negotiation process to speed up the formation of a framework that will bring practical benefits to its people, and contribute to peace, stability and prosperity in the region and the world.