Vietnam’s economy has grown 5% this quarter, slightly faster than the first quarter in 2012 and 2013, with a $1 billion trade surplus and growth especially robust in the Saigon region. But the striking economic news in a country that was experiencing runaway inflation in recent years: Vietnam’s consumer price index declined in 0.4% in March and now is below an annual rate of 5%.
The data suggest Vietnam is on an economic path toward reaching its long-term potential. But what is its potential? Some economists think Vietnam is headed toward the middle-income trap that stalls many developing countries, such as the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand. Others see Vietnam as the Japan (or South Korea) of the 21st Century.
The latter viewpoint got a boost in a forum in Hanoi this week that featured Harvard’s Robert Lawrence, who forecast 13.5% economic growth for Vietnam in 2025. That’s assuming implementation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement that is expected to dramatically increase Vietnam’s global trade.
Lawrence projected many other TPP partners (the US, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, and Japan) would experience significantly slower growth. His numbers suggested Vietnam’s exports would increase 37%, compared to 14% for Japan and 12% for Malaysia, and 4% for the US.
The TPP has yet to be completed, so Vietnamese officials were quick to point out their country would not necessarily benefit the most from it — because its economy is starting far behind the other partners.