Vietnam Sourcing Guide: Overview and Tips to help you do business in Vietnam

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Vietnam is quickly emerging out of China's shadow and becoming a primary destination to manufacture and source products. With the third fastest growing economy in the world and a young yet skilled workforce, it's no wonder that there is a rush to source products in Vietnam.

Vietnam is argubly the second best country to source products behind China. With recent changes in American trade policy, Vietnam is becoming even more attractive to buyers.  Even before the changes, Vietnam was quickly on it’s way to being a great alternative to Chinese manufacturing and already well established in its own right as a manufacturing powerhouse. While VIetnam is still up and coming it helps to think of Vietnam as a scrappy, yet promising startup vs a massive corporate behemoth that is China.  So why should you consider manufacturing in Vietnam? Read our guide and find out!

Vietnam is winning the Trade war Against China

Recently, there have been two major changes in international trade policy that benefit Vietnam: new tariffs on Chinese goods imposed by the United States and a huge free trade agreement between Vietnam and the EU. As you probably know,  Trump announced that he will slap tariffs on $50 Billion worth of goods imported from China and into the United States and threatened to add tariffs of 25% to an additional $200 Billion dollars of Imports from China. As a result, many large buyers are looking elsewhere to source and manufacture their products and Vietnam is looking to be the #1 destination.  

The European Union-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement was ratified in 2015 and will go fully into effect by the end of the year. The Agreement will grant Vietnam manufacturers and EU buyers to trade freely as well as allows European businesses and investors to set up manufacturing operations without many restrictions in Vietnam. Beyond the EU agreement, Vietnam has been aggressively seeking to get into more free trade agreements with several other countries as well. Vietnam is a key Members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and has a free trade agreement with South Korea, As a result, Samsung alone produces $58 Billion dollars worth of goods in Vietnam a year. They’re also in talks to join the revised Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.

Even though TPP is dead, there is now a renewed push by 11 of the 14  original members countries involved to revive it. The intent of the original TPP was to build a powerful trading block to compete against China's growing influence. The United States, which killed the original TPP deal, is excluded, however, the partnership is giving the US the option to join if they wish. The new partnership includes Australia, Canada, Japan, Mexico and of course Vietnam among others. In the original TPP, Vietnam was expected to be the biggest single beneficiary and looks to come out on top in this new agreement as well.

Of note, Cosmo Sourcing first set up in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 2014 to get into Vietnam before TPP went into effect.  Most of Cosmo Sources first clients in Vietnam were companies that were already doing manufacturing in China, but looking to move to Vietnam. Despite the cancelation of TPP we decided to stick with Vietnam and as a result, Cosmo has over 4 years of experience doing business in Vietnam.

Overview of Vietnam

So now that you know why you should look at sourcing in Vietnam we should discuss what it has to offer. Even though Vietnam is smaller than China, it still punches above its weight when it comes to manufacturing. Vietnam has a population of just 93 Million people vs China’s 1.3 Billion, however, Vietnam has a younger labor force and over 60% of their population is between the ages of 18-60. In 2016 Vietnam exported over $170 Billion USD worth of goods and had a GDP of $202 Billion. While the GDP seems low, Vietnam is the 3rd fastest growing economy in the world. It’s GDP growth is about 8% a year and holding steady, while China is 6% and declining.

Vietnam is a full member of the WTO and complies with all agreements concerning customs, and health and safety standards. While not a full free trade agreement, the USA, and Vietnam do have a bilateral trade agreement that has been in effect since 2001. Vietnam's Currency is called the Dong and the current exchange rate is 1 USD = 23327 VND. A further benefit for buyers in the US is that the Dollar is very strong against the fairly weak Dong, meaning that goods can be bought for even cheaper.

Vietnam actively encouraging growth and opened 50 new industries to foreign investment as well as getting rid of regulations on hundreds of more industries. In fact, Foreign Direct Investments account for 20% of Vietnam's output, which is one of the highest rates in the world. Several major companies have a significant manufacturing presence in Vietnam. In Northern Vietnam, Samsung runs the world's largest smartphone manufacturing plant, which produces about $58 Billion worth of smartphones a year. The factory employs over 100,000 people. Where does Canon Make their cameras? Vietnam! Where does LG make many of their TV’s? You guessed it, Vietnam. Vietnam is also the largest manufacturer of products for Patagonia, North Face, Nike, Adidas and much other apparel and shoe companies.

 

China Vs Vietnam

Check out our full guide on China Vs. Vietnam for sourcing your next product!

Anytime Vietnam manufacturing comes up it always gets compared to China which is understandable as China is currently the top and is showing no signs of giving up the top spot. Despite China's dominance Vietnam punches above its weight and has several advantages over China.

Why Vietnam is Better

Vietnam not only has one of the youngest labor forces in the world, but they are very capable of performing complex manufacturing task. In addition, the cost of labor is half what it is in China. On average, Vietnam’s labor force is 7 years younger than in China, and even though Vietnam has a population of 90 million and 54 million are between the ages 18 and 60 and are able to participate in the labor force.

In addition, while China is seeing more and more restrictions and regulations against its manufacturing sector, Vietnam's government is extremely proactive at pursuing free trade agreements around the world. Vietnam has trade agreements in place, or soon to be completed, with the EU (including Norway, Iceland, and Switzerland), South Korea, All of Southeast Asia, via ASEAN, Russia and more.

Vietnam, compared to China, has a smaller bureaucracy and fewer restriction on foreign direct investment. In fact, in several industries, they have removed all restrictions on foreign ownership of production.  Further hundreds of industries have relaxed restriction and rules on foreign ownership and investment. If you’re at the scale that is considering setting up and owning your own manufacturing capabilities, then Vietnam is much more attractive than China. Having experienced both Vietnam and China I have often felt pushback from China when trying to source and do business, while in Vietnam I often feel welcomed with open arms. I find it much more welcoming from a business perspective.

Why China is better

China is still a one stop shop when it comes to finding a manufacturer. If it can be made it can be found in China. No other country anywhere in the world can offer this. When I source from Vietnam the first question I try to answer is “can it be made here?’, but when I source from China the first question is “what price can I buy it?” Even for products that can be made in Vietnam,  the factories are often not designed to handle different scales. In China, smaller buyers can make a small purchase to test a product idea, and then expand to almost any size. While it is possible to do this it can’t be guaranteed like it is in China.

China also has better access to raw materials. Even if a resource isn’t naturally found in China there is already someone in the country that is importing it. As result factories already have their backend supply chain figured out. In Vietnam, I often have to find a supplier of raw materials in addition to a supplier of the finished good. While this isn’t always the case this has never been an issue in China.

China also has better infrastructure than Vietnam. That’s not to say that the infrastructure in Vietnam is bad, it’s pretty decent actually, but China has invested literally trillions of dollars to create possibly the best infrastructure in the world. Even though they have the largest ports in the world they still run incredibly efficiently. China has a rail network that connects the entire country, and over twice as much high-speed rail as the rest of the world combined. And even if it does come from terribly polluting coal plants, the electricity is cheap. In fact, China’s infrastructure and logistics network is so good that in many cases the saving in transportation cost makes up for the higher labor cost.

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What products should you source from Vietnam

Check out our full guide on what products can be sourced from Vietnam

Vietnam exports over $160 Billion dollars worth of goods a year. While China may be a one-stop shop for everything, Vietnam is a little more limited, so you will need to be searching for a product that happens to fall in a few industries that Vietnam specializes in. Fortunately, there are several industries to choose from.

Clothing and Textiles

Vietnam produced and export over $30 Billion in textiles and clothing in 2017 and is experiencing over 10% growth a year in the industry. Several major companies do a majority of their manufacturing here. The North Face does a majority of its production in Vietnam, as well as Patagonia, Levi, Under Armor, Lacoste among many others have a manufacturing in Vietnam. Vietnam is also leading the way in sustainable manufacturing practices in the industry.

Footwear

Vietnam is one of the largest manufacturers of shoes in the world and has the largest export capacity in the world. Vietnam produces over $12 Billion worth of shoes a year and growing fast. In addition over 90% of the shoes that are produced in Vietnam are exported overseas, which is the highest rate in the world by far. Vietnam isn’t limited by shoe styles either, The output ranges from high-end leather shoes and Sneaker to cheap flip flops and everything in between. Nike and Adidas both do a majority of their manufacturing in Vietnam as well as many other shoe companies.

Consumer Goods

Consumer goods, which is admittedly a very broad category, is Vietnam's largest industry. In 2017, Vietnam exported over $70 Billion dollars worth of consumers goods. Consumer goods are basically anything that ends up being used by an end consumer (as opposed to a business). Since most of what is sold on Amon is classified as  “Consumer goods” Vietnam is a great place to look for suppliers for your FBA business. 

Plastic and rubber goods

Vietnam exports over $5 Billion a year in Rubber and plastic goods. Most of these tend to be basic consumer goods such as rubber dog toys to sunglasses. Vietnam has a huge capacity to produce goods. The most common method is plastic injections, but you can find any methods here including plastic extrusion and plastic welding. Rubber manufacturers in Vietnam are easy to find and can cover all rubber needs such as extrusion, latex dipping, molding, and calendering. 

Furniture

Vietnam is currently the second largest manufacturer of furniture in the world, behind only China, however, Vietnam is the fastest growing manufacturer of furniture in the worlds while Chinese furniture production is actually decreasing. The range of furniture manufacturers in Vietnam includes IKEA on the low end to high-end custom built furniture and everything in between. We personally have sourced furniture including beach chairs and high-end patio furniture from Vietnam.  

Packaging

Vietnam is one of the world's leaders in packaging. Packaging made in Vietnam ranges from cardboard boxes to chip cartons to plastic vacuum packed goods. If you want to create a high-quality custom packaging then Vietnam would be a great place to look.

Coffee

Vietnam is the world's second largest exporter of coffee in the world by volume, exporting over 1.3 Million tons in 2012. Most of the beans are robusta beans and not the higher quality of arabica beans. Nonetheless, Vietnamese coffee farmers are quickly improving their quality and targeting the specialty coffee market. Vietnam's coffee industry already has several major players and exports to almost every major country in the world. Regardless, the specialty coffee market in Vietnam is still young but growing fast so there is plenty of room to grow.  

Beyond the ones listed, Vietnam specializes in several other industries such as electronics, jewelry, construction materials Engines, handcrafted goods and much much more. Check out the World Bank trade dates to get a full overview: https://wits.worldbank.org/CountryProfile/en/Country/VNM/Year/LTST/TradeFlow/EXPIMP/Partner/WLD/Product/All-Groups

How to find Suppliers in Vietnam

Check out our full guide on how to find suppliers in Vietnam

While China has Alibaba and several others alternatives to find suppliers, you may be asking how do I find suppliers in Vietnam. For starting out, you can actually use Alibaba as the website does allow you to sort by country. Simply select Vietnam on the country tab. Beyond Alibaba, there are a few other websites that cater specifically to Vietnam and are a great resource to find Vietnamese suppliers.

Vietnam Export http://en.vietnamexport.com/

A good modern website that maintains a large database of verified factories in Vietnam. The website is endorsed by the Ministry of Industry and Trade of Vietnam. The website is much better to use than others due to quality. In addition to the database, they provide a ton of industry-specific information and news. The website also promotes agricultural products such as coffee and Lychee, which is often difficult to find.

Vietnam Manufacturers http://www.vietnammanufacturers.vn/en/

Founded in 2009, Vietnam Manufacturers started as a trade journal to promote Vietnamese companies and business interest worldwide. They have since expanded and now provide a large searchable database, trade show promotions, and industry-specific publications.

VTown http://vtown.vn/en/category7.html

Vtown.vn is owned by Washin Engine Co. and is actually intended to be a database of Japanese companies that do manufacturing in Vietnam. Regardless they maintain a very good database of Vietnamese based manufacturers that are in English and easy to search.  Since the factories in their database are largely Japanese managed you tend to find manufacturers that have a much higher quality control. I have used this database and found good suppers through them.

VietnamAZ http://www.vietaz.com/home/index.htm

VietnamAZ is made for American Companies who are looking to buy and do business in Vietnam. They maintain a large database of suppliers.

VietnameseMade.com http://www.vietnamesemade.com/home/index.php

VietnameseMade is another database of manufacturers that focus on the Vietnamese market. It is a B2B trade portal to help connect buyers around the world to sellers in Vietnam.

VCCI News http://vccinews.com/exporter.asp

While the main focus on the website is to provide news to exporters in Vietnam they do maintain a directory of business in Vietnam. The directory is a little simple and organized by category so it’s not the easiest to use.

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China + Vietnam Sourcing strategy

Many buyer and companies do not like to put all their eggs in one basket, as a result, many multinationals, as well as larger volume FBA sellers, have adopted a China + Vietnam Strategy. By sourcing and buying the same or similar products from both China and Vietnam at the same time you are able to take advantage of the best features of both countries as well as hedge your bets against any major changes in one country. WIth recent tariffs slapped against China, FBA buyers and major companies that use this policy were able to quickly shift production to Vietnam without any noticeable impact on their sales or supply chain.

The China + Vietnam Sourcing strategy started with the clothing and footwear industries, which has used it for years now. The dual sourcing strategy is expanding quickly to several other industries. Even if you are already buying or manufacturing in China and do not plan to move, it is still valuable to assess the Vietnamese landscape to determine if you can do better here. Having a list of suppliers in Vietnam can also give you a backup plan if conditions were to suddenly change in China. It’s important for a company to be robust and have redundant operations strategies in place so that you can ensure the best service for your customers.

Conclusion

Vietnam may not quite be at the scale of China, but it is a rapidly growing manufacturing base that is only going to get bigger in the future. One of the biggest pieces of advice I was given when I lived in China never showed up late to the party. While in China the party has been going on for a few decades it’s just getting warmed up in Vietnam. While China is slowing and the future looks great for Vietnam.

Cosmo Sourcing, your Vietnam Sourcing Company

If you’re looking for a partner in Vietnam then give Cosmo Sourcing a look. If you are interested feel free to reach out to me at jim@cosmosourcing.com or ask me any questions you may have. Cosmo has been sourcing in Vietnam since 2014 and has worked with several clients to find products and partners in Vietnam. Cosmo is one of the only Sourcing companies that have expertise in both China and Vietnam and can actively source and compare product in both countries. Thanks for reading and we look forward to working with you!

James KennemerComment