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Lighthizer Says Vietnam Must Cut Its Trade Surplus With US

Vietnam must take steps to cut its trade surplus with the U.S., Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in comments released Monday, as the Trump administration ramps up pressure on the Southeast Asian country.

The U.S. has a growing trade shortfall with Vietnam, and the government “has been clear with Vietnam that it has to take action to reduce the unsustainable trade deficit,” Lighthizer said in written responses to the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. Measures Vietnam should take include “expanding its imports of goods from the United States and by resolving market access restrictions related to goods, services, agricultural products, and intellectual property,” he said.

Vietnam increasingly is being targeted by the Trump administration over a swelling trade surplus with the U.S., one of its biggest trade markets. Vietnam’s annual trade surplus with the U.S. has exceeded $20 billion since 2014 and reached $40 billion last year, the highest in records going back to 1990, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. For the first five months of the year, the surplus is already 43 percent higher than a year ago at $21.6 billion.

In May, the U.S. Treasury added Vietnam to a watchlist of countries being monitored for possible currency manipulation. President Donald Trump described Vietnam as “almost the single-worst abuser of everybody” when asked in June if he wanted to impose tariffs on the nation.

Lighthizer also criticized Vietnam for a “host of unfair trade barriers” U.S. businesses face in Vietnam.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Lighthizer, who was answering a question from Senator Mark Warner (D-Va.), testified before the committee June 18. Answers to additional questions from committee members were submitted in writing Monday.

Warner asked if Lighthizer agreed with Trump that Vietnam has taken more advantage of the U.S. than China.

“I’m concerned that the administration is pursuing an ad hoc trade strategy that has the effect of isolating regional partners,” Warner said.

(Updates with Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 6th paragraph.)
Reporting by John Boudreau and Michelle Jamrisko with assistance from Jenny Leonard.