From 9 to 17 January 2019, ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office conducted an annual visit to Viet Nam in order to prepare the annual assessment and report on Vietnam economy in 2018. On the basis of working sessions with public and private sector, AMRO has made some comments on Vietnam’s economy in 2018 as follows:
Vietnam’s economy grew strongly at 7.1 percent in 2018 and is expected to grow at 6.6 percent in 2019 (in line with the growth rate target of 6.6 – 6.8% set by Vietnam Government and National Assembly) with inflation contained at below the authorities’ target of 4 percent, according to the preliminary assessment by the ASEAN+3 Macroeconomic Research Office (AMRO) after its Annual Consultation Visit to the country from January 9 to 17, 2019.
The mission was led by Dr. Seung Hyun Hong, AMRO Lead Specialist, and Director Dr. Junhong Chang and Chief Economist Dr. Hoe Ee Khor participated in several policy meetings. The discussions focused on recent developments and short-term prospects, risks and vulnerabilities, as well as structural reforms in the economy. During the visit, AMRO also discussed technical assistance activities, including the secondment program, with the Vietnamese authorities.
“Vietnam’s economic growth continued to be robust in 2018 on the back of strong growth in manufacturing and services, exceeding the authorities’ target growth rate of 6.7 percent,” said Dr. Hong. “As growth momentum is expected to remain strong, the authorities should focus on strengthening financial soundness, continuing fiscal consolidation efforts, and accelerating structural reforms.”
Manufacturing growth was driven by the electronics sector, while the services sector was propelled by the wholesale and retail industry and boosted by tourism. Management of administered prices helped dampen inflationary pressure in 2018. GDP growth in 2019 is expected to be sustained by strong growth in manufacturing and services.
Vietnam’s external position continued to strengthen, benefiting from robust export performance and increased foreign investment. Greater flexibility in exchange rate management also improved the economy’s resilience to external shocks, while allowing the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) to buildup its reserves buffer. Downside risks are mainly external, stemming from the ongoing U.S.-China trade conflict and policy uncertainties in several advanced economies, which could lead to greater volatility in the financial markets and capital outflows.
The fiscal deficit was kept at 3.6% of GDP in 2018 and is expected to remain stable in 2019, in line with the government’s fiscal consolidation target. The authorities’ continued efforts and reform initiatives, in line with the medium-term fiscal plan, are commendable. Continuing policy efforts to enhance revenue potential will be critical in the longer term, particularly to finance growing spending needs on development and social security in a sustainable way. Greater efforts are needed to improve spending efficiency while prioritizing expenditures to promote long-term growth potential.
Credit growth has moderated, in line with the SBV’s lower credit growth target. The SBV’s continued supervision of lending to certain sectors in the economy, such as real estate and construction, is warranted to mitigate the risk of an asset bubble. Recent progress in resolving legacy non-performing loans (NPL) in several banks is commendable. Further efforts to speed up NPL resolution as well as bank recapitalization are strongly encouraged to improve the soundness of the banking system.
Continued structural reforms will help the economy address medium- to long-term challenges. Enhanced financial transparency would be greatly beneficial in expediting the progress of SOE equitization and divestment of state assets. Improving tertiary education and vocational training are needed to upskill the workforce and improve productivity, which will help facilitate the country’s ascent along the path of economic development.