Vietnam is one of the stars in the ASEAN region. Its pre-COVID-19 economic growth of 6-7% rivals China. Its Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) is several times more than the Philippines and its exports are worth as much as the total value of its GDP.  The largest footwear brands in the world, Nike, Adidas, and Puma, among others-all, have factories in Vietnam.  From consumer goods to electronics, furniture to packaging all the way to coffee, Vietnam contributes significantly to the global marketplace. Even our very own brands that have set up shop in Vietnam are competing against local players and multinational companies. Pharmaceutical giant, UNILAB, my former employer, through United International Pharma (UIP), is a known market leader in the cough and cold category. Because of its tremendous success, the group decided to invest in a couple of manufacturing plants strategically located in Southern Vietnam. On the other hand, URC of the JG Summit group is the dominant non-cola beverage player pushing its C-2 and coffee brands while San Miguel beer and Oishi snack foods are also making its presence felt across the entire Indochina including Myanmar using Vietnam as base for its manufacturing plants.     

Every time I visit Vietnam, I see dramatic changes in the urban landscape. Walking in the streets, you feel a frenetic burst of energy. People are in a hurry, exchanging goods, selling everything from fruits to shirts in the countless small shops, and scooters everywhere uncomfortably at close range rushing to their destinations. Vietnam has a young population, vibrant and for enterprising individuals, anything feels possible. For more than 20 years, Vietnam was like my third most visited destination for business and academic work after Singapore and Indonesia. At the height of the global financial crisis, the nation’s capital and second-largest city, Hanoi was a favorite jump-off point for deal-making in my early years as an advisor to several businesses. But because it’s the political center of Vietnam rather than its financial hub, Hanoi was more low key than its larger and more cosmopolitan neighbor to the south, Ho Chi Minh City. After 5 years of doing advisory work, my partners decided to deploy me to Ho Chi Minh City. 

Referred to as Saigon by the locals, practically anything of business importance happening in Vietnam goes through Ho Chi Minh City. It is also Vietnam’s commercial hub, largest urban area, and one of Asia’s fastest-growing cities. New businesses surface every week while every street is filled with construction and hotel lobbies are always occupied by dealmakers and entrepreneurs at work.  

When COVID-19 struck

Vietnam’s response to COVID-19 has been nothing but impressive. In a country of nearly one hundred million people, it fought the pandemic early. Despite a 1,444 km. long border with China, Vietnam recorded only just over 300 cases of Covid-19 nationwide with reportedly zero deaths from January to July. For more than three months since declaring victory over the coronavirus in April, Vietnam has not recorded any locally transmitted cases up until now after a 57-year-old resident of the central city of coastal Danang was tested positive for the coronavirus disease last week. 

Experts say that unlike other countries like the Philippines and Indonesia currently experiencing spikes in infections, deaths on a huge scale, and a crippled healthcare sector, Vietnam had a game plan centered on one thing, to prevent the virus from spreading. And the leaders saw a small window to act early on, swiftly, boldly, decisively, and used it fully.

To be continued...