(Jan. 28) FRESNO, Calif. — Vietnam is growing and should not be overlooked as a potential fruit export market, U.S. analysts say.
Several key elements place the country in a favorable trading position, said Eduardo Torres, director of the Fresno-based U.S. Export Assistance Center, in a speech to the San Joaquin Trade Association on Jan. 21.
Torres worked as the U.S. Embassy’s commercial officer in Ho Chi Minh City in May and highlighted the country’s market conditions and opportunities.

The country’s exports, which depend on two-way trade, have increased substantially.

“Vietnam has set growth projections and will need to rely on more foreign investment in order to reach those projections,” Torres said. “Fruit and vegetables rank among some of the best export prospects into Vietnam.”

In 2002 Vietnam imported more than 250,000 19-pound boxes of California table grapes valued at $2.8 million, according to the California Table Grape Commission, Fresno.

“Vietnam is a very good market for table grapes, with increasing shipments,” said Susan Day, international marketing director for the grape commission. “Table grape exports have more than doubled in the last five years.”

Several factors favor U.S. trade with Vietnam, Day said.
A bilateral trade agreement with the nation took effect in December 2001. The agreement cut the import tariffs on Vietnamese products from 40% to 4%.

Lowering U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese products has begun to stimulate Vietnam’s economy, Torres said of the country of 80 million people, two-thirds of whom are younger than 25.

Vietnam may be a toddler in terms of normal market activity, but in economic growth it is a young adult.

“There are cards in the United States’ hands such as brand recognition, respect of business practices and the need for U.S. investment,” Torres said.

Vietnam ranks as the 18th-largest export market in 2002 for California table grapes.

“In 2002 it was a record shipment year, and certainly 2003 through October is looking good,” Day said.

Shipments for the 2003 season through October were up 55%, she said.

Vietnam is considered a less attractive market for tree fruit, said David Miller, international programs director for the California Tree Fruit Agreement, Reedley.

“Mostly plums have been shipped there because plums are heartier than other stone fruit,” Miller said.

Economic factors also play a role in marketing tree fruit to Vietnam.

Competition comes from China, which exports peaches to Asian markets at low prices, and Vietnam’s income is too low for marketability of tree fruit, Miller said.

As the country’s economy becomes stronger, it probably will attract more exports.

Jim Pandol, vice president of marketing for Pandol Bros. Inc., Delano, also sees Vietnam as a future export market.

Pandol has exported apples, oranges and grapes to Vietnam. Oranges didn’t travel well to Vietnam, and Pandol, like some other shippers, has backed out of shipping them.

“Vietnam is a small market that may be big in (growth) percentages, but that growth needs to be compared to the industry as a whole,” Pandol said. “Southeast Asia in general is seen as a growth area that is developing in overall income growth.”