A very thoughtful posting by Dan Harris, an attorney from Seattle practicing in China and other international venues, states that the next China is actually the interior of China itself. What we usually think of as the developing China market is basically coastal China. In his blog China Law Blog, he goes on to say that Viet Nam could be the next China someday. After all, as he states, "Vietnam has the second fastest growing economy in Asia, second only to (guess who?) China."
I have only lived in Ho Chi Minh City now for six months. This is not enough time to really understand business and the markets here. This is a difficult country to find information about specific questions unless you understand how to read and speak Vietnamese. [I will write more about my frustration about this in a future posting.] This is also due to the ways of doing business through established relationships, which take time to build and require a high degree of confidentiality. Therefore finding out about specific opportunities or business conditions is difficult unless you build a relationship with the connections that can find out for you.
The markets here are also somewhat contradictory at times. There is supposedly a very soft real estate market here right now, but there are construction projects underway every 50 meters in every direction. These projects range from small houses (thousands of them under construction) to high-rise condominium or apartment towers. A third of my neighbors are construction contractors and workers.
So although it is difficult to find out the specifics of the markets, it is obvious that there is a lot going on here and there is a lot more to do. However, the opportunities at this time for international companies are mixed. There have been opportunities for years in trading and light manufacturing, and the industrial and high-tech parks are full of international firms manufacturing and trading products from all over the world. On the other hand, the construction market has been very closed to international firms. There are very few international design firms with offices here in HCMC. And there are even fewer international construction contractors. This may be due to lack of interest from international companies due to the fast pace of design and construction elsewhere. Those foreign companies in this market here at this time are producing projects funded by their home countries.
There is definite excitement in the local press and business circles about the upcoming trade normalization with the USA and Viet Nam's entry into W.T.O. And there are lots of joint venture business deals announced every day. But the laws allowing 100%-foreign owned firms to do business in Viet Nam are becoming even more liberalized, and there is definite encouragement from all levels of government for foreign investment in Viet Nam.
I say that this is the right time to come to Viet Nam to participate in the ten-year boom that will bring Viet Nam to China's level of development today. The foundation for this success is already in place with improving infrastructure and a very helpful government and law environment. The companies that build relationships here over the next few months will be in on the ground floor. Companies waiting to jump in will find themselves playing catch-up.