Building a Bridge Across the Pacific
The growing trade relationship between Washington State and Vietnam is good news for both places.
For those of us in Washington, the apples or cherries in our kitchen likely didn’t have too far to go to get from the farm to our plates. With the wide variety of delicious crops grown right here in our state, eating local is easier than ever. But those same fruits also travel long distances to end up in the kitchens of produce lovers across the globe.
We grow so much that after feeding people in Washington and across the United States, the extra produce grown in Washington often ends up on ships headed to ports across the world, including one in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam.
Located in the eastern part of the city, the Cat Lai Port bustles with activity. Giant container ships dock at the port’s berths on the Dong Nai River as heavy-duty cranes lift large shipping containers onto flatbed trucks. Multicolored shipping containers are stacked in aisles throughout the port and give the appearance of towers of children’s blocks.
In some of these colorful containers, you’ll find Washington apples, potatoes, cherries and other produce waiting to be unloaded.
“We import a lot,” said Bui Van Qui, executive president of Saigon Newport Corporation, which operates the Cat Lai Port. “From the U.S. and Washington State, we import a lot of meat, milk, vegetables and some other seafood as well.”
Cat Lai Port is the biggest shipping container port in Vietnam, and Bui said the port receives 90 vessels every month. Washington products are shipped here to be sold either in Vietnam or throughout other Asian markets.
Bui is optimistic about the relationship between the United States and Vietnam, especially when it comes to importing more U.S. products into the country.
“We see a lot of potential between the two countries,” Bui said. “We can reach higher.”
The Washington Grown team toured the expansive port last year and met with Benjamin Petlock, a senior agricultural attaché with the Foreign Agricultural Service. In his eight years in Vietnam, he worked to improve agricultural trade conditions between Vietnam and the United States.
According to the International Trade Administration, U.S. agricultural exports to Vietnam grew by 40% from 2017 to 2022.
“It’s really great,” said Petlock, “because I kind of feel the trade relationship is a perfect snapshot of how the United States and Vietnam have become closer since we normalized relations in 1995.”
Petlock said that in 1995, Vietnam was the United States’ 102nd largest market for food and agricultural products. Now, he said, the country is the eighth largest U.S. agricultural export market. Vietnam’s major imports from Washington State are dairy, apples, wheat, potatoes (mostly in the form of frozen French fries), beef and fresh sweet cherries, according to the Washington State Department of Agriculture.
“Fruits are very popular here,” Petlock said, “so Washington cherries and Washington apples are incredibly popular.”
If Petlock has any message for Washingtonians, it’s to come to Vietnam.
“It’s a great country,” he said. “There’s a lot of excitement here. The Vietnamese are some of the warmest people I’ve ever met in my entire life.”
He echoes Bui’s optimism about the future of the two nations.
“I would say the relationship between the United States and Vietnam is the best it’s ever been,” he said. “So when you put all these factors together, the amount of opportunities for U.S. agriculture — it just increases every day.”