Oregon's connection to Vietnam is deep.
Contract factories in Vietnam produced 42 percent of Nike's footwear products in fiscal 2013, according to the company's annual report. A high percentage of Columbia Sportswear products are also manufactured in Vietnam. Intel has a large presence in the country as well.
Vietnam Ambassador Nguyen Quoc Cuong is in Oregon to discuss ways to deepen the ties to those companies and others.
He spent part of Monday at Portland State University, where he met with President Wim Wiewel, former Gov. Ted Kulongoski, Metro President Tom Hughes and representatives of Nike and Columbia Sportswear. The meeting was convened by PSU through its Vietnam-Oregon Initiative, an effort to strengthen trade and development ties. He also has plans to meet with Gov. John Kitzhaber.
A priority issue for Vietnam is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement now being negotiated by President Barack Obama and several other countries, including Vietnam. If approved, the TPP would eliminate tariffs on shoes and apparel imported from Vietnam.
"TPP is under negotiations and in the end game now. Twelve countries are involved and and all countries are actively working toward completing this in the very near future," said Cuong. "For Vietnam, the very important TPP [issue] is market access. Ninety percent of our manufacturing is footwear and apparel, so you can understand how important this is to us."
If U.S. tariffs on key products from Vietnam were lifted, the opportunities for Oregon companies to do business in Vietnam would increase greatly, said Cuong.
"Vietnam is ready to be a more open market for U.S. industrial businesses and U.S. services [businesses], he said.
Nike, understandably, is a big proponent of the TPP. But not all its competitors favor the agreement. New Balance has been on the opposite end of the table from Nike on this issue, making the Boston company the sole major athletic shoe company that wants the Vietnamese tariffs to stay in place. It argues that getting rid of those tariffs will make it tougher to manufacture shoes here in the U.S.
As for Oregon businesses that want to do business with or in Vietnam, Cuong offered this advice:
"Vietnam is a very open economy. For the businesses in Oregon there are great opportunities. First building on existing relationships between Oregon and Vietnam [like those with Nike, Columbia and Intel]. The second thing, with TPP near its conclusion, there will be huge opportunities for Oregon businesses.