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Vietnam

Executive Summary

Foreign direct investment (FDI) continues to be of vital importance to Vietnam, as a means to support post-COVID economic recovery and drive the government’s aspirations to achieve middle-income status by 2045. As a result, the government has policies in place that are broadly conducive to U.S. investment. Factors that attract foreign investment include government commitments to fight climate change issues, free trade agreements, political stability, ongoing economic reforms, a young and increasingly urbanized and educated population, and competitive labor costs. According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), which oversees investment activities, at the end of December 2021 Vietnam had cumulatively received $241.6 billion in FDI.

In 2021, Vietnam’s once successful “Zero COVID” approach was overwhelmed by an April outbreak that led to lengthy shutdowns, especially in manufacturing, and steep economic costs. However, the government reacted quickly to launch a successful national vaccination campaign, which enabled the country to switch from strict lockdowns to a “living with COVID” policy by the end of the year. The Government of Vietnam’s fiscal stimulus, combined with global supply chain shifts, resulted in Vietnam receiving $19.74 billion in FDI in 2021 – a 1.2 percent decrease over the same period in 2020. Of the 2021 investments, 59 percent went into manufacturing – especially in electronics, textiles, footwear, and automobile parts industries; 8 percent in utilities and energy; 15 percent in real estate; and smaller percentages in other industries. The government approved the following major FDI projects in 2021: Long An I and II LNG Power Plant Project ($3.1 billion); LG Display Project in Hai Phong ($2.15 billion); O Mon II Thermal Power Plant Factory in Can Tho ($1.31 billion); Kraft Vina Paper Factory in Vinh Phuc ($611.4 million); Polytex Far Eastern Vietnam Co., Ltd Factory Project ($610 million).

At the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) Vietnam’s Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh made an ambitious pledge to reach net zero emissions by 2050, by increasing use of clean energy and phasing out coal-fueled power generation. In January 2022 Vietnam introduced new regulations that place responsibility on producers and importers to manage waste associated with the full life cycle of their products. The Government also issued a decree on greenhouse gas mitigation, ozone layer protection, and carbon market development in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s recent moves forward on free trade agreements make it easier to attract FDI by providing better market access for Vietnamese exports and encouraging investor-friendly reforms. The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) entered into force August 1, 2020. Vietnam signed the UK-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement entered into force May 1, 2021. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) entered into force January 1, 2022 for ten countries, including Vietnam. These agreements may benefit U.S. companies operating in Vietnam by reducing barriers to inputs from and exports to participating countries, but also make it more challenging for U.S. exports to Vietnam to compete against competitors benefiting from preferential treatment.

In February 2021, the 13th Party Congress of the Communist Party approved a ten-year economic strategy that calls for shifting foreign investments to high-tech industries and ensuring those investments include provisions relating to environmental protection. On January 1, 2021, Vietnam’s Securities Law and new Labor Code Law, which the National Assembly originally approved in 2019, came into force. The Securities Law formally states the government’s intention to remove foreign ownership limits for investments in most industries. The new Labor Code includes several updated provisions including greater contract flexibility, formal recognition of a greater part of the workforce, and allowing workers to join independent workers’ rights organizations, though key implementing decrees remain pending. On June 17, 2020, Vietnam passed a revised Law of Investment and a new Public Private Partnership Law, both designed to encourage foreign investment into large infrastructure projects, reduce the burden on the government to finance such projects, and increase linkages between foreign investors and the Vietnamese private sector.

Despite a comparatively high level of FDI inflow as a percentage of GDP – 7.3 percent in 2020 – significant challenges remain in Vietnam’s investment climate. These include widespread corruption, entrenched State Owned Enterprises (SOE), regulatory uncertainty in key sectors like digital economy and energy, weak legal infrastructure, poor enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPR), a shortage of skilled labor, restrictive labor practices, and the government’s slow decision-making process.

Table 1: Key Metrics and Rankings
Measure Year Index/Rank Website Address
TI Corruption Perceptions Index 2021 87 of 180 http://www.transparency.org/research/cpi/overview
Global Innovation Index 2021 44 of 132 https://www.globalinnovationindex.org/analysis-indicator
U.S. FDI in partner country ($M USD, historical stock positions) 2020 USD 2,820 https://apps.bea.gov/international/factsheet/
World Bank GNI per capita 2020 USD 2,650 https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NY.GNP.PCAP.CD

1. Openness To, and Restrictions Upon, Foreign Investment

3. Legal Regime

4. Industrial Policies

5. Protection of Property Rights

6. Financial Sector

7. State-Owned Enterprises

The 2020 Enterprises Law, which came into effect January 1, 2021, defines an SOE as an enterprise that is more than 50 percent owned by the government. Vietnam does not officially publish a list of SOEs.

In 2018, the government created the Commission for State Capital Management at Enterprises (CMSC) to manage SOEs with increased transparency and accountability. The CMSC’s goals include accelerating privatization in a transparent manner, promoting public listings of SOEs, and transparency in overall financial management of SOEs.

SOEs do not operate on a level playing field with domestic or foreign enterprises and continue to benefit from preferential access to resources such as land, capital, and political largesse. Third-party market analysts note that a significant number of SOEs have extensive liabilities, including pensions owed, real estate holdings in areas not related to the SOE’s ostensible remit, and a lack of transparency with respect to operations and financing.

8. Responsible Business Conduct

Companies are required to publish their corporate social responsibility activities, corporate governance work, information of related parties and transactions, and compensation of management. Companies must also announce extraordinary circumstances, such as changes to management, dissolution, or establishment of subsidiaries, within 36 hours of the event.

Most multinational companies implement Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programs that contribute to improving the business environment in Vietnam, and awareness of CSR programs is increasing among large domestic companies. The VCCI conducts CSR training and highlights corporate engagement on a dedicated website  in partnership with the UN.

AmCham also has a CSR group that organizes events and activities to raise awareness of social issues. Non-governmental organizations collaborate with government bodies, such as VCCI and the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA), to promote business practices in Vietnam in line with international norms and standards.

The Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative was introduced to Vietnam many years ago but the government has not officially participated in it. Overall, the government has not defined responsible business conduct (RBC), nor has it established a national plan or agenda for RBC. The government has yet to establish a national point of contact or ombudsman for stakeholders to get information or raise concerns regarding RBC. The new Labor Code, which came into effect January 1, 2021, recognizes the right of employees to establish their own representative organizations, allows employees to unilaterally terminate labor contracts without reason, and extends legal protection to non-written contract employees. For a detailed description of regulations on worker/labor rights in Vietnam, see the Department of State’s 2020 Human Rights Report.

Vietnam participates in the OECD Southeast Asia Regional Program since its launch in 2014 and has cooperated in several policy reviews with the OECD, notably Investment Policy Reviews (2009 and 2018), Clean Energy Finance (2021), and the Vietnam Economic Review (forthcoming). Vietnam also participates in the OECD-Southeast Asia Corporate Governance Initiative. Engagement with businesses will include activities in the agriculture (with a focus on seafood), garment and footwear sectors, and building resilient supply chains. Vietnam doesn’t have any domestic measures requiring supply chain due diligence for companies that source minerals that may originate from conflict-affected areas.

Vietnam’s Law on Consumer Protection is largely ineffective, according to industry experts. A consumer who has a complaint on a product or service can petition the Association for Consumer Protection (ACP) or district governments. ACP is a non-governmental, volunteer organization that lacks law enforcement or legal power, and local governments are typically unresponsive to consumer complaints. The Vietnamese government has not focused on consumer protection over the last several years.

Vietnam allows foreign companies to work in private security. Vietnam has not ratified the Montreux Documents, is not a supporter of the International Code of Conduct or Private Security Service Providers and is not a participant in the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Service Providers’ Association (ICoCA).

Vietnamese legislation clearly specifies businesses’ responsibilities regarding environmental protection. The revised 2020 Environmental Protection Law, which came into effect on January 1, 2022, states that environmental protection is the responsibility and obligation of all organizations, institutions, communities, households, and individuals. The law also specifies that manufacturers bear two responsibilities, including responsibility for waste recycling and responsibility for waste treatment.

The Penal Code, revised in 2017, includes a chapter with 12 articles regulating different types of environmental crimes. In accordance with the Penal Code, penalties for infractions carry a maximum of 15 years in prison and a fine equivalent to $650,000. However, enforcement remains a problem. To date, no complaint or request for compensation due to damages caused by pollution or other environmental violations has ever been successfully resolved in court due to difficulties in identifying the level of damages and proving the relationship between violators and damages.

In the past several years, there have been high-profile, controversial instances of impacts on human rights by commercial activities – particularly over the revocation of land for real estate development projects. Government suppression of these protests ranged from intimidation and harassment via the media (including social media) to imprisonment. There are numerous examples of government-supported forces beating protestors, journalists, and activists covering land issues. Victims have reported they are unable to press claims against their attackers.

9. Corruption

Vietnam has laws to combat corruption by public officials, and they extend to all citizens. Communist Party of Vietnam General Secretary Nguyen Phu Trong has made fighting corruption a key focus of his administration, and the CPV regularly issues lists of Party and other government officials that have been disciplined or prosecuted. Trong recently expanded the campaign to include “anti-negativity,” described loosely as acts that can cause public anger or reputational harm to the CPV. Nevertheless, corruption remains rife. Corruption is due, in large part, to low levels of transparency, accountability, and media freedom, as well as poor remuneration for government officials and inadequate systems for holding officials accountable. Competition among agencies for control over businesses and investments has created overlapping jurisdictions and bureaucratic procedures that, in turn, create opportunities for corruption.

The government has tasked various agencies to deal with corruption, including the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption (chaired by the General Secretary Trong), the Government Inspectorate, and line ministries and agencies. Formed in 2007, the Central Steering Committee for Anti-Corruption has been under the purview of the CPV Central Commission of Internal Affairs since February 2013. The National Assembly provides oversight on the operations of government ministries. Civil society organizations have encouraged the government to establish a single independent agency with oversight and enforcement authority to ensure enforcement of anti-corruption laws.

10. Political and Security Environment

Vietnam is a unitary single-party state, and its political and security environment is largely stable. Protests and civil unrest are rare, though there are occasional demonstrations against perceived or real social, environmental, labor, and political injustices.

In August 2019, online commentators expressed outrage over the slow government response to an industrial fire in Hanoi that released unknown amounts of mercury. Other localized protests in 2019 and early 2020 broke out over alleged illegal dumping in waterways and on public land, and the perceived government attempts to cover up potential risks to local communities.

Citizens sometimes protest actions of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), usually online. For example, in June 2019, when PRC Coast Guard vessels harassed the operations of Russian oil company Rosneft in Block 06-01, Vietnam’s highest-producing natural gas field, Vietnamese citizens protested via Facebook and, in a few instances, in public.

In April 2016, after the Formosa Steel plant discharged toxic pollutants into the ocean and killed a large number of fish, affected fishermen and residents in central Vietnam began a series of regular protests against the company and the government’s lack of response to the disaster. Protests continued into 2017 in multiple cities until security forces largely suppressed the unrest. Many activists who helped organize or document these protests were subsequently arrested and imprisoned.

11. Labor Policies and Practices

Although Vietnam has made some progress on labor issues in recent years, including, in theory, allowing the formation of independent unions, the sole union that has any real authority is the state-controlled Vietnam General Confederation of Labor (VGCL). Workers will not be able to form independent unions legally until the Ministry of Labor, Invalids, and Social Affairs (MOLISA) issues guidance on implementation of the 2019 Labor Code, including decrees on procedures to establish and join independent unions, and to determine the level of autonomy independent unions will have in administering their affairs. MOLISA expects to issue this guidance in 2022.

Vietnam has been a member of the International Labor Organization (ILO) since 1992 and has ratified seven of the core ILO labor conventions (Conventions 100 and 111 on discrimination, Conventions 138 and 182 on child labor, Conventions 29 and 105 on forced labor, and Convention 98 on rights to organize and collective bargaining). In June 2020 Vietnam ratified ILO Convention 105 – on the abolition of forced labor – which came into force July 14, 2021. The EVFTA also requires Vietnam to ratify Convention 87, on freedom of association and protection of the right to organize, by 2023.

Labor dispute resolution mechanisms vary depending on situations. Individual labor disputes and rights-based collective labor disputes must go through a defined process that includes labor conciliation, labor arbitration, and a court hearing. Only interest-based collective labor disputes may legally be pursued via demonstration, and only after undergoing through conciliation and arbitration. However, in practice strikes organized by ad hoc groups at individual facilities are not uncommon, and are usually resolved through negotiation with management. In 2021 there were 105 strikes nationwide, 20 fewer than in 2020 as reported by VGCL.

According to Vietnam’s General Statistics Office (GSO), in 2021 there were 50.7 million people participating in the formal labor force in Vietnam out of over 74.9 million people aged 15 and above, around 1.4 million lower than 2020. The labor force is relatively young, with workers 15-39 years of age accounting for half of the total labor force. 61.6 percent of women in the working age participate to the labor force in comparison to 74.3 percent of men in the working age while 65.3 percent of people in the working age in the urban areas participate in the labor force in comparison to 69.3 percent in the rural areas.

Estimates on the size of the informal economy differ widely. The IMF states 40 percent of Vietnam’s laborers work on the informal economy; the World Bank puts the figure at 55 percent; the ILO puts the figure as high as 79 percent if agricultural households are included. Vietnam’s GSO stated that among 53.4 million employed people, 20.3 million people worked in the informal economy.

An employer is permitted to dismiss employees due to technological changes, organizational changes (in cases of a merger, consolidation, or cessation of operation of one or more departments), when the employer faces economic difficulties, or for disruptive behavior in the workplace. There are no waivers on labor requirements to attract foreign investment.

14. Contact for More Information

Economic Section
U.S. Embassy
7 Lang Ha, Ba Dinh, Hanoi, Vietnam
+84-24-3850-5000
InvestmentClimateVN@state.gov 

Investment Climate Statements
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The Lessons of 1989: Freedom and Our Future