Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a memorandum of understanding with Vietnam’s Dong Nai Province Monday, a day before the province was to announce the opening of a trade office in Bentonville.
For Arkansas, the memo is largely ceremonial, but Hutchinson said it helps to build relationships with the province. He said the province’s chairman, Dinh Quoc Thai, had told him it wants to buy Arkansas commodities. Arkansas is the first state with which the province has signed an agreement. Hutchinson said he expects to visit Vietnam at some point as governor.
“The good news is that there’s minimal risk,” he told reporters afterwards. “It’s not that our taxpayers’ dollars are going into this. This is how trade is built. It is built upon a relationship. It is built upon this type of sister-state relationship, and because of that, whenever they’re looking at investment or expansion in the United States, their focus is going to be Arkansas.”
The province, which is located in southern Vietnam, will announce the opening of a trade office in Bentonville Tuesday.
Hutchinson and Thai signed the memorandum during a ceremony attended by a Vietnamese delegation with a translator. Several gifts were exchanged.
The relationship began with a January meeting in Vietnam of province officials, Arkansas’ World Trade Center office, and Made in USA Works!, a private company based in Bentonville that helps bring foreign manufacturing jobs to the United States. According to Chris Neeley, Made in USA Works! executive vice president, a Vietnamese delegation traveled to Arkansas in March.
Neeley said the province had originally planned to open its first trade office in California but decided to open one here instead as a result of those meetings. He said the province and Arkansas are both agriculture based, and Arkansas offers logistical advantages with its location in the center of the country.
Neeley said Vietnamese culture expects this type of government-to-government statement of intention to do business together.
“That is a very traditional way of establishing that position in Vietnam,” he said.
Neeley said the province is interested in timber from south Arkansas, commodities from the Delta, manufacturing assembly in central Arkansas, logistics in northeast Arkansas, and a trade office in Northwest Arkansas.
A Dong Nai-based company, Tinnghia, is looking for a central Arkansas location to assemble furniture that is currently assembled in Vietnam and shipped to the United States, Neeley said. Tinnghia’s office is co-located in the same office with Made In USA Works!
Neeley said the furniture currently is built in Vietnam and shipped whole to the United States, where it is sold by Walmart and other retailers. In the future, the furniture could be built in Vietnam and shipped flat to its Arkansas plant. His company has taken plant officials to visit sites in central Arkansas.
He said province officials also are interested in building a coffee production plant in Arkansas to enter the American market. Beans would be shipped to Arkansas from Vietnam.