YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

U.S. Firms to Get a Show of Their Own in Hanoi : Commerce: Trade expo will be the first of its kind since Saigon's fall. One businessman calls Vietnam a 'gold rush.'


Entrepreneurs from across the United States are preparing for the first trade show in Vietnam since the 1975 fall of Saigon to exclusively feature U.S. businesses.

About 45 companies have signed up to exhibit their wares in Hanoi at a four-day fair that begins April 21, said Dick Pirozzolo, a spokesman for Vietnam Investment Information & Consulting in San Diego, which is organizing the show.

Vietnam has played host to other trade fairs since the Communist government took over, but this will be the first to feature U.S. companies only, said Ban Doan, an aide to Vietnam's United Nations ambassador in New York City.

"This will benefit both Vietnam and America," Doan said. "The two sides can exchange commerce information and talk about working together."

Major companies participating at the expo include bottler Pepsico Inc. of Purchase, N.Y., and Radix Group International, a Los Angeles firm that arranges freight shipments.

"I've been trying to get a hotel room in Hanoi since February," said Ellen Numis, director of sales and marketing for Radix. "Everything's booked up because of the trade show."

Southern California consultants will also attend the fair, hoping to network with potential clients.

George Dang, an international business consultant and president of Alca International Co. in Irvine, said he will travel the 8,500 miles to Hanoi to meet with potential clients.

"Vietnam is the gold rush right now," he said.

And Wendy Kroll, president of Healthcare Professional Management Inc. in Irvine, will rendezvous at the fair with leaders of the Vietnamese Women's Union, which works on women's issues, to discuss how to bring low-cost immunizations to Vietnamese children.

"There are many pharmaceutical companies that want to do business with Vietnam," Kroll said.

A Vietnamese singer who has been popular in Vietnam since the 1960s will travel from Westminster to Hanoi to entertain at the trade expo. Organizers declined to release his name, fearing he might be harassed by factions in the Vietnamese American community that oppose reconciliation with the Communist regime.

The Orange County singer will be the first expatriate musician to perform in a major concert in Vietnam.

"We want to make sure he gets to the trade show safely," said Peter Tran, co-executive director of Vietnam Investment Information & Consulting, or VIIC.

Since President Clinton lifted the trade embargo with Vietnam on Feb. 3, U.S. companies can now share in as much as $9 billion worth of trade and investment in that country, according to the United States-Vietnam Trade Council in Washington.

Thirty U.S. firms already have representative offices in Vietnam through a special license granted by the U.S. Treasury Department, but they have not been allowed to conduct business.

Since the late 1980s, Vietnam has bought more than $4 billion in goods from Asian and European nations, according to VIIC.

Tran said he and fellow colleagues at VIIC decided to organize the expo after their first return visit to their birthplaces two years ago.

"We were walking around the open markets and saw American products being sold illegally everywhere," he said. "American things are so popular in Vietnam, though trade shows have only featured European and Asian products. We thought, 'Why not have an expo for American companies?' "

The expo came together quickly with the cooperation of the two governments, which were eager to share in the benefits a trade fair might bring.

It was arranged in September, months before Clinton's decision to lift the embargo. But VIIC officials said the Treasury Department's approval of the fair signaled to them months ago that the embargo would soon end.

"It wouldn't make sense for the U.S. government to allow their companies to display goods only to take those goods back to America," Tran said. "Businesses want a chance to sell their products at the trade show."

When Clinton announced the lifting of the ban, he also said negotiators would discuss the opening of liaison offices between the two countries. On Wednesday, U.S. and Vietnamese officials announced that the two governments have agreed in principle to open offices in each other's capitals, a key step toward establishing diplomatic relations.

The U.S. office in Hanoi would deal with trade and human rights issues and continue the effort to uncover information about American service members still missing.

VIIC officials said they hope the opening of Communist Vietnam to U.S. trade will increase the standard of living for the country's 71 million people, whose per-capita income for 1992 was about $220. More foreign presence in the Southeast Asian country might also improve human rights for residents there, they said.

"As more people find jobs, they can better feed and clothe their families," said Hung Le, co-executive director for the consulting firm. "And hopefully, freedom would slowly come in too."

With a literacy rate of 88%, Vietnam's well-educated population promises not just a market for U.S. products such as soft drinks and electronics, but also a potential low-cost labor pool, VIIC executives said.

VIIC executives are so confident the trade show will succeed, they are planning a second one--this time in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon), in October.

Los Angeles Times Articles