Vietnam could also be an enormous winner of Donald Trump’s commerce conflict however its success shouldn’t be cost-free. Because the nation takes extra enterprise from China-based exporters, so Hanoi’s foreign money practices draw extra scrutiny, whereas its rising commerce dependency leaves it extra uncovered to a world downturn.
A surge in demand for Vietnamese-made furnishings, which has adopted US commerce actions towards China, additionally sharpens the concentrate on a necessity for the authorities to clamp down on the usage of illegally sourced wooden.
Whereas the federal government has set a objective of assembly powerful compliance requirements, doing so poses a menace to the 1000’s of small companies, and half one million jobs, that depend on unlawful timber.
Commerce conflict winner
Vietnamese furnishings exports to the US rose 34 per cent within the first quarter of this 12 months, as tariff-affected Chinese language furnishings exports to the US fell 17 per cent. Rising US demand boosted Vietnam’s general wooden exports by 16 per cent within the first quarter, in line with customs information.
At the least a number of the shipments are prone to be Chinese language exports relabelled with Vietnam because the nation of origin to keep away from US tariffs. Vietnam’s authorities has vowed to crack down on such abuses, citing “tens” of instances.
However this could not masks the truth that wooden processing is an enormous and rising enterprise for Vietnam. It was the sixth largest supply of export earnings in 2018 by class, rising 16 per cent to just about $9bn.
The US is the largest and fastest-growing marketplace for Vietnamese furnishings, accounting for 44 per cent of complete exports. Nomura estimates that, because the commerce conflict drives extra enterprise to Vietnam, rising US furnishings orders may enhance the nation’s GDP by zero.four share factors.
Out of Africa
A transparent constraint on the is sourcing the best supplies — home and imported — to satisfy demand. Vietnam has imposed a complete logging ban from pure forests since 2016, however the authorities has been accused of “outsourcing deforestation” via a reliance on unlawful timber, introduced in from locations akin to Cambodia and Africa, the place forestry requirements fall brief.
Africa, together with China, the US and the EU, has change into a number one provider to Vietnam, with timber from international locations akin to Cameroon, Nigeria and Ghana making up almost a 3rd of complete imports of logs and sawn wooden final 12 months.
“African timber is cheaper [than timber from Laos and Cambodia]. Our prospects are getting acquainted with African timber so we now have acquired extra orders,” stated Nguyen Xuan Nghia, a group chief from La Xuyen, a furniture-producing village in North Vietnam.
Vietnam final 12 months imported 6m cubic metres of timber, largely logs and sawn wooden, however almost a 3rd was labeled as “excessive threat” by activists and researchers. A lot of this wooden is consumed domestically or exported to China.
The remaining two-thirds of imports come from areas with sound forest administration requirements such because the US and the EU. Timber from low-risk sources is processed in Vietnam and exported again to the supply markets as ultimate merchandise, akin to furnishings.
The federal government has responded to mounting stress from activists and the EU by committing to take away high-risk timber from all provide chains. Hanoi signed the EU’s Forest Regulation Enforcement, Governance and Commerce (FLEGT) Initiative final October, to determine a nationwide timber assurance mechanism that covers wooden merchandise each for export and for home use.
Vietnam has given itself till late 2020 to determine a system to make sure the legality of the wooden utilized in its provide chains, whereas companies desirous to export to the EU will first must safe FLEGT licences from the federal government.
The EU was Vietnam’s fifth largest market final 12 months however compliance issues as a result of this assurance system would improve the fame of Vietnamese-produced items in world markets. It might additionally make it simpler for Vietnamese suppliers to promote into markets such because the US, Japan and South Korea, which ban the import of illegally sourced forest merchandise and may maintain up Vietnamese imports in customs pending investigations.
However establishing a system to hint the provenance of wooden is a frightening process. The system lies on the coronary heart of FLEGT and would require all wood-processing firms in Vietnam to have the ability to hint the supply of their timber alongside their provide chains. As of final month solely 830 firms, or a few fifth of Vietnamese wooden firms, had a traceability system in place, in line with the Forest Stewardship Council, a global certification physique.
Compliance will must be industry-wide — FLEGT would require all firms to have a traceability system and to adjust to labour and work security requirements. Most of Vietnam’s wood-processing firms are small, will wrestle to afford to satisfy the necessities and will face closure.
Provided that wooden processing employs half one million Vietnamese, the federal government might want to deal with the appreciable dangers related to compliance. The difficulties concerned imply the federal government’s 2020 objective can solely be aspirational — it might be a number of years earlier than Vietnam is ready to adjust to the brand new requirements.
An extended-term answer is for extra home manufacturing. Timber produced in Vietnam is legally “clear” however is generally grown by smallholders who have a tendency to reap their bushes too early. Main furnishings producers akin to Scansia Pacific and Woodsland, Ikea’s two primary suppliers, are working with home smallholders to steer them to develop their bushes longer, however the scheme is in its infancy.
This implies imported timber will proceed to play a vital function, forcing the federal government to behave.
— To Xuan Phuc is a contributor to FT Confidential Analysis
scoutAsia is a company information and information service from Nikkei and the FT, offering in-depth details about greater than 660,000 firms throughout greater than 20 international locations in east Asia, south Asia and Asean. This unique scoutAsia Analysis content material has been produced by FT Confidential Analysis