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Commerce Secretary Leads Businesses to Vietnam

Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez, leading a delegation representing US businesses to Hanoi's presidential palace, said the stage is set for trade growth between the US and Vietnam.

"It's a matter of moving forward and creating the environment for investment, for growth, for jobs, for prosperity for both countries," Gutierrez said. Vietnam has 85 million residents and one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

Gutierrez, who fled Castro's Cuba as a boy, shook hands with Nguyen Minh Triet, the president of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, as the nation moves toward capitalism. This place that was at the heart of the Cold War not all that long ago is now a proud member of the World Trade Organization.

The 22 companies represented by Guitierrez's delegation range from Alcoa in the manufacturing space to Marriott in tourism. They all see a fair amount of opportunity, although barriers still exist: Intellectual property rights are poorly protected in Vietnam, and the country's steep growth curve has boosted inflation.

On the US side of things, a weak dollar and the potential credit crunch at home are matters of concern, yet the Commerce Department is encouraging American businesses to invest here.

"It really comes down to each individual company, and their circumstances, and the kind of return they'll get from their investment," said Gutierrez.

"Obviously, the fact that they're here means they already have some investment here and they'd like to make it bigger, they'd like to expand, or they're trying to get in, and, hopefully, with this visit, they'll be able to facilitate that process."

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For the individual investor, though, "getting in" can be difficult. That's where companies like California-based Source Vietnam come in.

"We advise investors how to handle private equity investments in Vietnam," Source Vietnam Chief Executive Eric Stevens said. "We share ownership of brokerages in Vietnam, in addition to the fact (that) we do have private equity investments where money is pooled together. In addition to that, we're actually going to be coming up with a mutual fund in the next six months."

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