Vietnam country brief

Bilateral relations

Bilateral links between Australia and Vietnam have developed significantly since the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1973. Our current government-to-government relations draw strength from shared strategic interests in maintaining peace and stability in the region based on international law; a trading relationship which has been Australia’s fastest-growing among the larger ASEAN economies in recent years; enduring educational links (the 22,500 Vietnamese are the fourth largest group of foreign students in Australia) and Vietnamese recognition of Australia’s role as a constructive and generous aid donor. The relationship has matured into one of our most important in the region despite the differences in our systems and political values.

On 18 March 2015, Australia and Vietnam elevated the bilateral relationship to an Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership during a visit (16-18 March 2015) by Prime Minister Dung and a delegation of Ministers and senior business representatives. This reflects Australia and Vietnam’s mature and diverse bilateral relationship, encompassing wide-ranging cooperation on political issues, trade and investment, defence and security, policing, immigration, combating transnational crime, people smuggling and human trafficking.

The Australia-Vietnam Plan of Action (2016-19) listing areas of cooperation under the Enhanced Comprehensive Partnership was signed by Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh in Canberra on 30 November 2016.

A strong program of two-way visits and dialogues has strengthened relations at senior levels. Vietnam’s Minister of Public Security and Minister of Industry and Trade made separate visits to Australia in 2016. Australian Ministers will visit Vietnam during its Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum 2017 host year.

People to people links

In the 2011 Census, 221,114 people in Australia claimed Vietnamese ancestry. The first major wave of Vietnamese migration to Australia started in the mid-1970s, with the arrival of large numbers of refugees following the end of the Vietnam War. In more recent years the vast majority of Vietnamese migrants have come to Australia through the Family Stream migration program (family stream migrants are selected on the basis of their family relationship with their sponsor in Australia under four main categories—partner, child, parent and other family visa categories), although there are growing numbers of skilled migrants. Today Australians born in Vietnam represent the fifth largest migrant community in Australia. Australia is the second most common destination for Vietnamese migrants, after the United States of America. The environment in Vietnam since the advent of the doi moi (renovation) reforms has encouraged many Vietnamese expatriates to revisit their former homeland.

The Australia-ASEAN Council is supporting the Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue, 14-17 May 2017 in Sydney.

Defence, police relations and regional security

Formal defence relations between Australia and Vietnam were established in February 1998, with the opening of a Defence Attaché Office at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi occurring in 1999. Vietnam's first Defence Attaché to Australia took up his appointment in Canberra in September 2000.

The bilateral defence relationship includes: regular Australian Defence Force ship visits to Vietnamese ports; training of Vietnamese military officers in Australia under the bilateral Defence Cooperation Program; and visits between Australian and Vietnamese senior Defence Force officials.

Defence and security links are expanding. In October 2010, Australia and Vietnam signed a bilateral MOU on Defence Cooperation at the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus held in Hanoi. A peacekeeping arrangement signed during PM Dung’s visit complements the bilateral MOU on defence cooperation. During his visit to Vietnam in August 2012, former Australian Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith and Vietnamese Minister of National Defense, General Phung Quang Thanh, agreed Vietnam and Australia should take further practical steps to enhance the defence relationship and to progress a range of bilateral defence initiatives, including the establishment of an Annual Defence Ministers' Dialogue. The inaugural Australia-Vietnam Defence Ministers' Meeting was held in Canberra on 19 March 2013. We cooperate closely with Vietnam in the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers’ Meeting Plus.

Australia and Vietnam have also held a senior officials-level bilateral Regional Security Dialogue since 1998. Since 2012, an annual joint Foreign Affairs/Defence Australia-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue has been held at Deputy-Secretary/Vice-Minister level. Vietnam hosted the fourth round of the Dialogue in 2016. Australia and Vietnam also conduct annual Australia-Vietnam Defence Cooperation Senior Officials' talks.

The Australian Federal Police maintains Law Enforcement Liaison Offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City.

Development assistance

Australia’s commitment to development cooperation with Vietnam is ongoing. The Australian Government will provide an estimated $83.6 million in total official development assistance to Vietnam in 2016-17, of which an estimated $58.4 million will be bilateral funding to Vietnam managed by DFAT. Australia will continue to support Vietnam’s economic reforms by improving market institutions and essential infrastructure, such as the Cao Lanh Bridge. The Australia Awards Scholarships program will also be a vehicle to promote Vietnam’s development with an increased focus on enhancing the economic participation of women, people with a disability and ethnic minorities.

The Australian Volunteers for International Development (AVID) program promotes economic growth and poverty reduction in the Indo-Pacific region by assisting host organisations to deliver effective and sustainable development outcomes.

More information on development assistance to Vietnam.

Education and training

Australia is a leading study destination for Vietnamese students. Vietnam is Australia’s fourth largest international education market and second largest source of international school enrolments. There are currently around 22,500 Vietnamese students in Australia.

Australia collaborates on many education and training initiatives with Vietnam, including in quality assurance, qualification recognition and vocational education; facilitating institution-to-institution partnerships; and supporting vibrant Australian alumni associations.

The Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Education and Training with the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), first signed in 1994, was renewed in October 2013 as part of the enhanced education cooperation under the Australia–Vietnam Plan of Action 2010-2013. Under the auspices of the MoU, the Joint Working Group on Education and Training has met three times, most recently in Canberra in April 2014.

By the end of 2017, more than 750 Australian students will have received support to study in Vietnam under the New Colombo Plan, deepening their knowledge of the region, its culture and ways of doing business. Further information is available at the New Colombo Plan website.

Australia's approach to human rights in Vietnam

Australia and Vietnam have held formal human rights talks regularly since 2002. The thirteenth round of the Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue took place on 4 August 2016 in Hanoi.

Australia's delegation typically includes representatives from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and the Attorney-General’s Department.

The Human Rights Dialogue facilitates frank discussion about key human rights issues, including: freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of information in Vietnam; specific cases of concern; the severity of sentencing for democracy activists; and Australia's opposition to the death penalty. The rights of political prisoners and the harassment and physical abuse of activists have also been key areas of discussion.

Australia has welcomed improvements in some areas and encouraged implementation of these gains, particularly in relation to legal reforms, gender equality, and rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.

Vietnam and Australia introduced a program of technical cooperation on human rights in 2006. The program, administered by the Australian Human Rights Commission and funded by the Australian Government, provides opportunities to foster practical cooperation between institutions with human rights responsibilities and expertise. The Australian Human Rights Commission has produced an overview of the program [PDF 47kb]. Australia has also funded programs in Vietnam under the Human Rights Grants Scheme. Funding for technical cooperation on human rights concluded in 2016.

Australia also raises human rights at senior levels, including at ministerial-level, with the Vietnamese government at appropriate opportunities.

Australia plays a constructive role at the UN Human Rights Council, including through the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process. The UPR provides a forum for constructive discussion of human rights situations in all UN member states, including Vietnam, and identifies practical steps to address specific human rights concerns.

Australia was an active participant in Vietnam's two UPR reviews in 2009 and February 2014. Vietnam agreed with 182 of 227 recommendations made at their 2014 UPR. Australia welcomes this development and encourages implementation of the accepted recommendations by Vietnamese authorities as soon as practicable. See here for Australia’s 2014 statement for the UPR of Vietnam.

Economic overview

Rapid economic growth since the early 1990s has helped Vietnam to lift more than 35 million people out of poverty. It achieved lower middle-income status (GDP per capita AUD 1800) in 2010. Its economy is in transition from agrarian to industrialised and from centrally planned to market based. With a young and increasingly wealthy population of around 90 million and favourable geography, notably proximity to growth engines in the region, Vietnam has significant long-term potential.

Vietnam has been in transition from a centrally-planned to a market-based economy since the late 1980s. This process has accelerated over the last decade as Vietnam has worked towards and achieved WTO membership in January 2007. While significant reforms remain outstanding, changes to date have resulted in economic benefits for Vietnam, particularly through increased exports and foreign direct investment. Vietnam has spectacularly reduced its poverty rate from 58 per cent in 1993 to around 10 per cent in 2010 (basic needs poverty line).

Today, Vietnam is a lower middle-income country with a strong outward orientation. Vietnam is the world’s second-largest coffee producer (after Brazil) and third-largest rice exporter (after India and Thailand). Its urban middle class is growing. Agriculture remains a key source of national income and employs more than half the workforce. Many Vietnamese live in low-lying deltas, and Vietnam is one of the most vulnerable countries to the impacts of climate change1, including sea level rise.

Vietnam is committed to global economic integration and trade liberalisation through participation in APEC (which it will host in 2017), the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the WTO and a growing network of free trade agreements, including the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA). It is also a party to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. In December 2013, Vietnam became the 20th member of the Cairns Group.

Performance and outlook

Vietnam’s General Statistics Office reported 6.2 per cent GDP growth in 2016 – Vietnam’s highest rate for 5 years. The manufacturing and construction sector was the key driver with 7.57 per cent growth. Both domestic and foreign investment increased substantially: Foreign Direct Investment rose by 9 per cent – attracted by positive developments in foreign ownership laws and anticipated opportunities from the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and new free trade agreements. As reform efforts bear fruit, including full implementation of the 2014 Investment and Enterprise Laws, together with other trade and investment facilitation policies, investment should continue to rise. The Asian Development Bank forecasts growth at 6.3 per cent in 2017.

International trade and investment

Goods and services exports now constitute over 80 per cent of Vietnam's GDP up from a 30 per cent share recorded in the mid-1990s. Vietnam's major exports are crude petroleum, telecommunications equipment, rice, rubber, footwear, coffee, jewellery articles, fish and furniture. The US remains Vietnam’s largest export market (19.1 per cent), followed by China (9.9 per cent), and Japan (9.8 per cent). Australia was the eleventh largest export market in 2015 at 2.1 per cent.

Vietnam's major imports are refined petroleum products, telecommunications equipment, electronic circuits, iron and steel, gold, medicaments, chemicals, plastics and textile and garment inputs. China was the biggest exporter of products to Vietnam, accounting for 29.5 per cent of all imports into the country, followed by the Republic of Korea (14.7 per cent) and Japan (8.7 per cent). Australia ranked as the 12th largest import source in 2015, at 1.3 per cent.

Business environment

The Vietnamese Government is gradually loosening foreign investment limits, for example, by lifting the foreign ownership limit in listed companies to 49 per cent, and in unlisted companies to 40 per cent. The legal system is also undergoing major change to better align commercial statutes with international norms. The implementation of WTO commitments is gradually contributing to a better operating environment over the medium and longer-term as tariffs are cut, investment restrictions loosened further, and a more transparent and predictable commercial legal and administrative system comes into place. This process will take some years to begin to show real benefits.

Vietnam has many economic strengths, not least the skills and entrepreneurial spirit of its youthful workforce. However, Vietnam faces many challenges in maintaining its growth and development trajectory over the longer term.

More information on the business environment is available at the Austrade website or Austrade in Vietnam.

Trade and investment

In the ten years to 2015-16, Vietnam was Australia’s fastest-growing export market in the ASEAN region, averaging 12.5 per cent annual growth. The Ministerial level Australia–Vietnam Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee (JTECC) is the primary government-to-government mechanism to take the bilateral trade and investment relationship forward, and address any problem areas.

Australia and Vietnam are parties to the Agreement Establishing the ASEAN–Australia–New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) which entered into force on 1 January 2010. Vietnam ratified the agreement on 24 June 2009. On 4 February 2016, Australia and Vietnam both became signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement.

Total two-way trade between Australia and Vietnam in 2015-16 was around $10.1 billion.

Total two-way goods trade for 2015-16 was approximately $8 billion (ranked 15th—1.6 per cent share).

Total two-way services trade for 2015-16 was $2.1 billion.

Australia's major exports to Vietnam in 2015-16 were:

  • Education-related travel services ($1 billion)
  • Crustaceans ($670 million)
  • Wheat ($423 million)
  • Live animals (excluding seafood) ($370 million)
  • Aluminium ($298 million)

Australia's major imports from Vietnam in 2015-16 were:

  • Telecom equipment and parts ($1 billion)
  • Personal travel ($608 million)
  • Crude petroleum ($391 million)
  • Footwear ($338 million)
  • Furniture, mattresses and cushions ($296 million)

Australian investment in Vietnam

Australian investment in Vietnam was valued at over $1.4 billion in 2015, $1.3 billion being considered foreign direct investment. Over the past five years, the most significant Australian investments have involved expansions by established Australian companies, which continue to diversify their operations. Prominent examples include BlueScope Steel, Santos, ANZ Bank, Commonwealth Bank of Australia, Linfox, CBH Group (Interflour), RMIT and QBE.

Export and investment opportunities for Australia

Vietnam's rapid economic growth over recent years has increased demand for imported goods, creating significant opportunities for Australian exporters of energy, dairy, meat, consumer goods, wheat and grains, machinery and services.

The continuing shift towards a more market-based economy and strong economic growth in Vietnam has increased demand for education and training services. Education sector reforms are also underway with support from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank. The need for training in areas such as English language, business and management and information technology remains high, especially in the major urban centres.

Australian companies are generally well received in Vietnam. Australia is regarded as a modern, technologically advanced and friendly country located within Vietnam's immediate sphere of interest. Long-term trade and investment opportunities should increase in line with Vietnam's progress in implementing its legislative and administrative reform program.

If you would like more information on specific export opportunities in Vietnam, or more information on export assistance, go to the Austrade website.

High level visits

Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh visited Australia on 30 November 2016. During his visit, Mr Minh and Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Julie Bishop MP signed the Australia-Vietnam Plan of Action (2016-19).

Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung visited Australia from 16‑18 March 2015, accompanied by a delegation of Ministers and business representatives. Prime Minister Dung met the Prime Minister, the Governor-General and Australian political, business and community leaders during his visit.

Following their meeting in Canberra on 18 March 2015, then witnessed the signing of the Declaration on Enhancing the Australia – Viet Nam Comprehensive Partnership, which sets out a high-level strategic agenda to guide the relationship in coming years.

Reflecting the enormous commercial potential in the bilateral relationship, Prime Minister Dung participated in a high-level business roundtable in Sydney with senior Australian and Vietnamese business leaders. Underscoring the growing people-to-people links between Australia and Vietnam, Mr Dung met with Australian students planning to live, work and study in Vietnam under the New Colombo Plan.

Prime Minister Dung also planted a tree at the National Arboretum in Canberra. The species, Acacia Implexa, was developed jointly by Australian and Vietnamese scientists.

In February 2014, Minister for Foreign Affairs the Hon Julie Bishop MP made her first official visit to Vietnam. She met senior government figures in Hanoi to advance Australia's economic diplomacy agenda and visited the Australia-Vietnam Joint Trans-National Crime Centre in Ho Chi Minh City. During her visit, Ms Bishop announced new Australian support for Vietnam’s economic reform process and two initiatives to support the empowerment of women in Vietnam.

Visits from Vietnam to Australia

  • 2016—Minister of Public Security, Colonel General To Lam
  • 2016—Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Mr Pham Binh Minh
  • 2016—Minister of Industry and Trade, Dr Vu Huy Hoang
  • 2015—Minister of Public Health, Ms Nguyen Thi Kim Tien
  • 2015—Minister of Public Security, Lieutenant General Tran Dai Quang
  • 2015—Prime Minister, Mr Nguyen Tan Dung, accompanied by: Minister, Chairman of the Office of the Government, Mr Nguyen Van Nen; Minister of Industry and Trade, Dr Vu Huy Hoang; Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Mr Cao Duc Phat; Minister of Education and Training, Professor Dr Pham Vu Luan; Minister of Information and Communications, Mr Nguyen Bac Son; Minister of Planning and Investment, Mr Bui Quang Vinh; Minister of Transport, Mr Dinh La Thang; Vice Minister of National Defence, Senior Lieutenant General Nguyen Chi Vinh; Vice Minister of Public Security, Senior Lieutenant General To Lam; Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr Le Hoai Trung; Vice Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Mr Nguyen Thanh Hoa; and Assistant of the Prime Minister, Mr Bui Quoc Bao.
  • 2015— Member of Central Committee of Vietnam's Communist Party and Deputy to the 13th National Assembly of Vietnam, President of the Vietnam Women’s Union , Madame Nguyen Thi Thanh Hoa
  • 2015—Minister of Natural Resources and Environment, Mr Nguyen Minh Quang
  • 2014 —Minister of Justice, Dr Ha Hung Cuong
  • 2013—Minister of Industry and Trade, Dr Vu Huy Hoang, accompanied by an energy and resources delegation
  • 2013—Minister of National Defense, General Phung Quang Thanh
  • 2012—Minister of Finance: Professor Vuong Dinh Hue
  • 2012—Deputy Prime Minister, Mr Nguyen Xuan Phuc, accompanied by Mr Nguyen Hoa Binh, Prosecutor General of the Supreme People's Procuracy, Mr Ha Hung Cuong, Minister of Justice; Mdm Pham Thi Hai Chuyen, Minister of Labour, War Invalids and Social Affairs, and Mr Huynh Phong Tranh, Minister, Inspector General of the Government Inspectorate.
  • 2010—Minister of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs, Mme Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan
  • 2010—Minister of Planning and Investment, Mr Vo Hong Phuc, accompanied by Vice Minister Le Duong Quang from Vietnam's Ministry of Industry and Trade (for the 9th meeting of the Australia-Vietnam Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee)
  • 2010—Vice President of Vietnam's National Assembly, Mr Uong Chu Luu, accompanied by a Parliamentary Delegation
  • 2009—General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, accompanied by a senior delegation including the Deputy Prime Minister (also Minister of Foreign Affairs), the Minister of Planning and Investment, and the Minister of Industry and Trade

Visits from Australia to Vietnam

  • 2014—Minister for the Environment, Mr Greg Hunt
  • 2014—Speaker of the House of Representatives of Australia, Ms Bronwyn Bishop
  • 2014—Minister for Foreign Affairs, Ms Julie Bishop (for bilateral meetings)
  • 2013—Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Brett Mason (to attend the ground-breaking ceremony for the Cao Lanh Bridge in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta)
  • 2013—Speaker of the House of Representatives of Australia, Ms Anna Burke (to sign a Memorandum of Understanding to formalise the cooperative relationship between the parliaments of Australia and Vietnam)
  • 2012—Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Senator Joe Ludwig (to strengthen ties and build trade opportunities for the agriculture sector ahead of the Asian Century)
  • 2012—Minister for Defence, Mr Stephen Smith (for bilateral meetings)
  • 2012—Minister for Foreign Affairs, Senator Bob Carr (for bilateral meetings)
  • 2011—Minister for Trade, Dr Craig Emerson (to co-chair the 8th meeting of the Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee)
  • 2011—Governor-General, Ms Quentin Bryce AC (to strengthen the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam)
  • 2011—Minister for Foreign Affairs, Mr Kevin Rudd (for bilateral meetings)
  • 2010—Prime Minister, Ms Julia Gillard (for the East Asia Summit and bilateral meetings)
  • 2010—Minister for Defence, Mr Stephen Smith (ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus (ADMM+) and signing of a Memorandum of Understanding for Defence Cooperation)
  • 2009—Minister for Trade, Mr Simon Crean (to co-chair the 8th meeting of the Joint Trade and Economic Cooperation Committee)
  • 2009—Minister for Immigration and Citizenship , Mr Chris Evans

Last Updated: 9 March 2017

1 The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, 2007

Last Updated: 10 March 2017