10/10/2015, 00.00
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Transpacific Partnership: a mixed bag for Vietnam’s economy

The TPP will have an uneven impact on economic growth, labour practices and some key sectors of Vietnam’s economy. It might encourage the creation of independent trade unions, a largely remains unchartered territory for most Vietnamese. The animal husbandry sector however is expected to suffer.

Hanoi (AsiaNews) – Although the ink is not yet dry on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed a few days ago, the deal itself is already undergoing close scrutiny, and criticism is mounting in the various countries that signed it because of its possible impact on labour rights and national economies.

The deal includes the United States, Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam, which represent 40 per cent of world trade

In the case of Vietnam, the deal is expected to boost the nation’s economy as many companies increasingly turn to it for inexpensive labour. However, the trade deal also presents some uncertainty about the formation of independent unions and the future of animal husbandry.

Under the TPP, tariff and non-tariff barriers would be gradually removed and trade practices would be standardised.

Likewise, TPP members have agreed to work together on currency policy in response to China’s devaluation of the yuan.

However, anti-globalisation groups have questioned the deal, saying that it would be a job killer in many member nations.

Many fear that the removal of barriers will allow capital to flow towards the low wage economies of the least developed members. 

Still, US President Barack Obama is among those who believe that the TPP will increase worker protections in countries like Vietnam and other Asian countries by letting employees form independent labour unions.

Until now, Communist authorities in Vietnam have only authorised official trade unions and have jailed workers who tried to form independent organisations.

“I think that [authorities] must let workers have their own unions and associations, so whenever they have a problem, the organizations can protect them,” a Vietnamese worker who requested anonymity told Radio Free Asia (RFA).

“We need to have independent unions,” he explained, “so workers can [. . .] know their rights and better understand the law. We just can’t let [authorities] do whatever they want.”

In fact, most of his compatriots know very little about the TPP or its impact on labour practices.

Under existing regulations, workers, in both blue- and white-collar occupations, must pay a membership fee to government unions, despite doubts about their actions on behalf of workers' rights.

At present, it is not yet possible to assess the impact of the TTP on labour unions and workers’ protection since there is little awareness of the matter.

Le Thi Cong, a lawyer and labour activist, told RFA that it is not surprising that Vietnamese workers are unaware of the possibility of forming independent unions under the TPP.

"They vaguely know about human rights, including labour rights. At present, they only know about the government’s union,” he said.

What is more, “Vietnam joined the ILO and WTO, but it lies to the world with rhetoric and fake reports, saying that the country does have a labour union which cares about workers’ benefits, while in fact it’s not true,” Vietnamese labour activist Do Thi Minh Hanh said.

Nevertheless, he believes that with the advent of the TPP, the Vietnamese will come to understand more about their rights, so the government won’t be able to hide the truth about how it treats workers.

Independent labour unions are not the only challenge that the TPP has in store for Vietnam.

Vietnam's Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang said the country’s US billion-a-year animal husbandry industry is set to face many difficulties under the trade pact, because Vietnamese poultry and other livestock farmers will not be able to compete with imported products.

The industry consists of about 17 million family farms, but only 23,000 of them use modern production methods. Many operations are small-scale enterprises that generate low profits.

Pham Duc Binh, vice chairman of the Vietnam Animal Feed Association, said the country must import corn and soybeans from the United States and South America to use for animal feed, as well as livestock for breeding.

“Because this makes our cost very high, [. . .] we don’t have the capability to compete,” he lamented. “Once we integrate with other countries [under the TPP], I can’t say our industry will be terminated, but we will face a huge loss.”

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