First Solar Abandons Vietnam

America’s struggling global leader in solar panels is abandoning its $1 billion investment in Vietnam, one of the biggest ever by an American manufacturer.  Although the decision reflects the world’s economic conditions as well as intense competition in the solar industry, it is a huge blow to Vietnam.

First Solar is selling its facilities that total more than a million square feet, which had started as part of an even bigger project in a Ho Chi Minh City industrial park situated near the famed Cu Chi tunnels that attract foreign tourists because of their role in hiding South Vietnam’s enemies during the Vietnam War.  The company expects to sell the property at a loss within a year.

The most likely buyer:  a company from one of the countries that are much more active than American corporations in Vietnam — Japan, Korea, Singapore, Taiwan or China.  From a Western perspective, that’s ominous because First Solar’s experience, along with the withdrawal of ConocoPhillips from Vietnam earlier this year, underscores the challenge American businesses face in the effort to capitalize on the Vietnam opportunity.

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