Beginning in 1980, emphasis was placed on the development of potential export commodities such as cash crops, marine products, and handicrafts, while imports were severely limited. To promote trade expansion with Japan, Singapore, and Hong Kong, several export–import firms were set up in Ho Chi Minh City under loose official supervision. The results were favorable but the experiment aroused distrust among communist party leaders, and the freewheeling enterprises were integrated into a single firm strictly supervised by the government.
The economic reforms of the late-1980s, including currency devaluation, adoption of a flexible exchange rate system, and lifting restrictions on foreign trade, contributed to the rapid growth in exports in the early 1990s. The US lifting of economic sanctions in 1994 pushed the volume of foreign trade even further upwards. Investments in Vietnam are contributing to the development and expansion of tourism. Vietnam joined the ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) in 1995, committing itself to tariff reductions among member nations. Foreign trade in Vietnam, though, is still mostly restricted to a couple of state-owned agencies. However, in 1999, the economy recorded its smallest trade deficit in recent memory as exports climbed 23% while imports increased only 2.1%.
Import commodities include petroleum and steel products, motor vehicles and tractors, tires, foodstuffs, raw cotton, textiles, sugar, and grain. The most important export commodities for Vietnam are crude petroleum (21%), footwear (14%), and apparel (12%). Other exports include rice (10.2%), shellfish (8.2%), and coffee (5.9%). Principal trading partners in 1999 (in millions of US dollars) were as follows:
|China (inc. Hong Kong)||982||1,178||-196|