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In 2020, Vietnam successfully achieved the double goals of containing COVID-19 and achieving significant economic growth at 2.91 per cent – one of the few countries in the world to record positive GDP growth last year.
This impressive achievement, as noted by Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Tran Quoc Phuong, resulted from the massive efforts of the Party, the state, the public, and enterprises.
“However, massive difficulties remain. While almost all economies in the world are struggling to recover, there is no certain evidence that the pandemic will end soon,” Phuong said. “Vietnam’s economy has also been seriously hurt.”
Two recent large-scale surveys by the General Statistics Office involving more than 130,000 businesses said that around 83 per cent of the respondents admitted they were negatively impacted.
However, Phuong said COVID-19 in 2020 has changed the game for the 2021-2025 period. “Many new trends have emerged, reshaping international financial flows, trade, and investment, especially supply chain shifts, creating many challenges but also opportunities for economic recovery in the long term,” he said. “Taking advantage of new prospects for economic recovery in 2021 and a breakthrough in the 2021-2025 period is important to achieve the goals set out in the Socioeconomic Development Plan for the period.”
Given COVID-19 and many other negative potential impacts from the global economy, the National Assembly (NA) cautiously set a target of 6 per cent in the country’s economic growth this year. However, now more optimistic about the economic outlook, the government says that greater efforts are to be made to reach a growth rate of at least 6.5 per cent in 2021.
The World Bank is expecting Vietnam’s economy to continue to flourish this year.
“By all standards, Vietnam has managed the COVID-19 crisis very well. Looking ahead, Vietnam’s prospects appear positive as the economy is projected to grow by about 6.8 per cent in 2021 and, thereafter, stabilise at around 6.5 per cent. This projection assumes that the COVID-19 crisis will be brought gradually under control, notably through the introduction of an effective vaccine,” said the World Bank in its most recent economic update for Vietnam.
According to the National Centre for Socioeconomic Information and Forecast (NCIF) under the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), although the pandemic continues to expand, some positive signals have been seen. Vaccines have begun to be administered in many nations, and this will continue being expanded in 2021.
“Thus, the global economy will gradually warm up, helping increase investment and trade globally and this will have a positive impact on the Vietnamese economy,” said the NCIF’s deputy director Dang Duc Anh.
The Vietnamese economy has in recent years opened itself up further to the global economy. Last year, while GDP hit VND6.3 quadrillion ($273.9 billion), its total export-import turnover reached $544 billion, nearly doubling GDP.
According to the latest forecast by the Vietnam Economics Institute under the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Vietnam’s GDP this year may grow 5.49 per cent (basic scenario), 6.9 per cent (high scenario), or 3.48 per cent (low scenario). The possibility for each scenario to become true would depend on the global situation and the Vietnamese economy’s internal strength in domestic consumption, production, and investment – including public investment.
According to the MPI, from now until the year’s end, boosting domestic consumption and public investment as well as attracting more foreign direct investment (FDI) will be among prime priorities for the government to achieve its new growth goal.
In 2020, the economy’s total retail and consumption service revenue hit over VND5 quadrillion ($217.4 billion), up 2.6 per cent on-year.
“Consumer confidence has gradually bounced back,” said an expert from the World Bank in Vietnam. “Many enterprises have found it difficult to boost exports and then turned to the domestic market. Many enterprises, already boasting a firm niche at the local market, have been expanding operations here.”
The World Bank said that retail sales also continued to grow, thanks to strengthening domestic demand for goods. Specifically, retail sales grew at 9.4 per cent on-year in December 2020, the highest growth rate since February 2020. Growth is driven by domestic demand with retail sales of goods 13.8 percent higher than in the same period last year.
According to the Asian Development Bank, in addition to spurring on local consumption, the government must find all ways to accelerate public investment as one of the key pillars for economic growth this year and beyond.
Figures from the Ministry of Finance showed that as of the end of 2020, nearly VND390 trillion ($16.95 billion), equivalent to 82.8 per cent of the plan allocated, has been disbursed, while the figure as of the end of November was only VND329.9 trillion ($14.3 billion), equalling 70.1 per cent. This is the highest ratio of disbursement in 2016-2020 – with 80.3 per cent in 2016, 73.3 per cent in 2017, 66.87 per cent in 2018, and 67.46 per cent in 2019.
Since early 2020, many state-funded projects, mostly infrastructure works, have been put into operation, fuelling socioeconomic development.
For example, on January 5, the first phase of Long Thanh International Airport in the southern province of Dong Nai commenced construction. The 5,580-hectare airport is expected to cost VND336.63 trillion ($14.64 billion), with the first phase needing over VND109 trillion ($4.74 billion). The airport is expected to relieve overloading at Tan Son Nhat International Airport in Ho Chi Minh City, currently the country’s largest airport.
In another case, in October 2020 the 5.37-km Mai Dich-South Thang Long flyover at Pham Van Dong street in Hanoi was opened to traffic, helping ease chronic traffic jams.
The VND5.34 trillion ($232.1 million) project connects the inner city with Thang Long Bridge and Vo Van Kiet Road to Noi Bai International Airport, and also connects the city’s big industrial zones and Hanoi with northern provinces, making it easier to transport goods.
Not far from this flyover, another one was inaugurated last August with the total investment capital of VND560 billion ($24.3 million), crossing Hoang Quoc Viet and Nguyen Van Huyen streets. The flyover is lengthened by a new road that meets with Samsung’s $220-million research and development project.
Besides prioritising public investment projects in 2021, the government will also focus on attracting more FDI as one of the key pillars for economic growth this year.
Deputy Minister Phuong said that despite causing serious aftermath in Vietnam, the health crisis seems not to be able to prevent FDI inflows to Vietnam in the long term, and an increasing manufacturing industry in the country. These are big drivers of Vietnam’s economic growth this year and beyond.
“Many major foreign groups and companies are eyeing the Vietnamese market, which is succeeding in controlling COVID-19 – this has strengthened their confidence in the market,” Phuong said. “The pandemic is only slowing down FDI inflows into the country. Many projects are temporarily halted, and will be strongly implemented when the pandemic eases.”
He expected that there will be many foreign investors coming to Vietnam as the prime minister has allowed foreign experts into the country to implement projects. “FDI is also contributing greatly to boosting exports,” he said.
Vietnam attracted $28.53 billion in newly-registered, newly-added, and stake-purchased, and capital contribution-based FDI in 2020, with the total disbursed FDI hitting $20 billion.
According to Do Nhat Hoang, director of the MPI’s Foreign Investment Agency, nearly 300 enterprises from many nations are planning to expand their existing investment or exploring investment opportunities in the country. Of this, more than 60 groups have reaped initial results in new and expanded investment projects here. Initial information showed that the total registered capital of these projects will likely be over $60 billion.
“This is quite a good signal that international investors are showing big interest in doing business in Vietnam,” Hoang said.