Remarks by USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker at the ‘Advancing Prosperity: Twenty Years of U.S.-Vietnam Development Cooperation’ Event

Friday, August 7, 2015
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker speaks at the event.
USAID Mission Director Joakim Parker speaks at the event.

HANOI, August 7, 2015 -- I hope you enjoyed that whirlwind tour through our cooperation. I feel fortunate to be on this big stage today to launch our 20th anniversary discussion, but I am not up here only as USAID director. USAID manages a majority of U.S. funding but I know that another important measure of impact comes through individual relationships based on trust and respect. We have many of those across all U.S. agencies involved in development cooperation, and I am privileged to represent them.

I would like to briefly detour to the world stage this morning. Consider the magnitude and relevance of events in recent weeks. Days ago the United Nations agreed on a Post-2015 Development Agenda with 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs). Two weeks earlier, agreement was reached on the Addis Ababa Action Agenda for financing those inspiring and very ambitious goals. In many ways, Vietnam has become a model for the MDGs and it did so in collaboration with important development partners, including the US, and with the support of many international NGOs, including many based in the US. Today we should celebrate how that came to be, so that we can do even better on our new shared agenda.

In fact, the development cooperation to date – both public and private – has been critical to the amazing acceleration of US-Vietnam relations. The milestones are truly coming faster – consider the comprehensive partnership announced in 2013 and the General Secretary’s visit to Washington last month. The joint statements from each show development cooperation’s catalytic role and outline its vital contributions in many areas. The words of almost every new SDG are in those joint statements, as well as an understanding of how the TPP, supported with related investments, will be a game changer.

Both our keynote speakers have made that point. Deputy Prime Minister Minh said that “Finding new ways toward a sustainable and socially and environmentally harmonious economy is not only an urgent demand, but also an important driving force.” Earlier this week in Singapore, Secretary Kerry said that “the ultimate measure of our success is going to be determined not by whether or not we have enabled economies to just grow, but by how sustainable and inclusive that growth turns out to be.”

In this short presentation I cannot possibly capture all of the contributions of the many American and Vietnamese government agencies and NGOs involved in our development cooperation. In any event, Vietnam’s many successes belong to its people. The DPM noted already last year that “Vietnam has accomplished 5 out of 8 MDGs ahead of schedule, especially in such areas as poverty reduction, gender equality, universal education and health care.” Vietnam, your development partners have worked with you in all of those areas, some of which were covered in the video. I’ll add some more.

Together, under PEPFAR, our single largest investment to date, we have provided ARVs to tens of thousands of people and helped reduce stigma. Every year, more than 350,000 pregnant women receive HIV testing in PEPFAR supported sites. Thousands who inject drugs are on medication assisted therapy. Dedicated officials in the Ministry of Health have been critical to these accomplishments.

Together, we have worked to protect children from neglected tropical diseases. As a result, for example, Vietnam was able to declare that Lymphatic Filariasis has been eliminated as a public health concern.

Together, our work on avian influenza and other pandemic threats has helped reduce the number of bird flu outbreaks in Vietnam from almost 2,000 in 2005, when the economic impact exceeded $100 million, to fewer than 100 in 2013.

Moving from health to governance, our most publicly recognized contributions have been to trade-related governance and provincial level competitiveness. The Provincial Competitiveness Index has demonstrated the value of transparency and incentives to improve. Over ten years, Vietnamese businesses have shared more than 88,000 submissions to the annual survey and more than 1 million articles have been written on what the PCI reveals about governance in Vietnam’s 63 provinces. Through our partners, notably VCCI, we have conducted 257 workshops for 42,000 provincial leaders and staff to help them improve governance.

Threats of natural disasters have driven solid civilian and military cooperation in Vietnam to strengthen capacity at the national, provincial and community level. The investment from USAID alone has been millions annually. Our friend Mike DiGregorio of The Asia Foundation will close the panel coming up this morning. We have worked with the Foundation to help small businesses in Vietnam collaborate with community and government organizations to mitigate seasonal flood and storm damage by improving disaster preparedness and response. There are other such partnerships, and we look forward to establishing a new one with the Asian Development Bank later this year.

Our longest-running cooperation supports persons with disabilities. What began as humanitarian work has matured and broadened into a strong relationship with the Ministry of Labor, Invalids and Social Affairs. Together, we have formulated the National Disabilities Law and supported ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Thousands of persons with disabilities have received health and other services in Danang and other provinces in the last couple of years alone with good support from local authorities. Trinh Thi Vuong, who you see on the screen, is one of 1450 students with disabilities who received IT training. She is among the more than 60% who found jobs, and works for a large German software development company.

This leads me naturally to the subject of war legacies. With patience and grace, Vietnam and many individual Americans advocated a long time for what has become robust and growing collaboration and U.S. funding. Presidents Sang and Obama “agreed that extensive cooperation in addressing war legacy issues to deepen mutual trust has allowed both countries to develop a relationship that looks to the future.”

This year, the US more than doubled its annual contribution to the problem of unexploded ordnance in Vietnam, to $10 million, building on work for more than two decades with organizations such as Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, PeaceTrees Vietnam and Veterans For Peace. In 2014 alone, this work resulted in the elimination of 30,000 pieces of UXO, mine risk education for more than 200,000 children, and services to 7,000 UXO victims. The War Victims Fund established through Vietnam’s longtime friend Senator Patrick Leahy has been at the heart of this, much of our disabilities programming, and the assistance I’ll describe next.

A legacy of Agent Orange – dioxin contamination – now makes another case for the deepening of trust. In late 2012, you still would have found what looked like wetlands at the north end of Danang’s airport. Now there is this infrastructure that reflects an investment already exceeding $65 million and which is, based on partnership with the Ministries of National Defense and Environment, halfway through the cleanup of more than 90,000 cubic meters of soil. Danang is not the end. We are working with the Ministry on a detailed assessment of contamination at Bien Hoa airbase. And of course we have health programs for disabled populations in provinces that were heavily sprayed with Agent Orange.

I have mentioned a few American NGOs, but a whole conference could be devoted to the contributions of American NGOs to development and ties using their own sweat and resources. They include big names, such as the Atlantic Philanthropies, Ford Foundation, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and Clinton Foundation. Others big and small have played valuable roles. Some ninety percent of U.S. financial flows to developing countries is not official development assistance but instead FDI and other private sources such as the philanthropy of NGOs. That demonstrates why the involvement of American NGOs and businesses has been so critical to the successes to date.

We must learn from our successes and failures as we plan for the future. Close coordination among counterparts and NGOs has played a key role in everything I’ve described. The same is true of well-conceived public-private partnerships. Consider the success of educational exchange, which has been driven by collaboration among many organizations. The DPM wrote last month that “the number of Vietnamese students studying in the U.S. has increased by 34 times from 500 students in 1995 to 17,000 students at present. Vietnam is the top country in ASEAN and the eighth in the world having students studying in the U.S.” He also noted the momentum behind a Fulbright University in Vietnam, which will be elaborated by one of our panelists.

Similarly, worldwide recognition of our higher engineering education alliance program with Arizona State and Intel confirms the power of public-private partnerships that are demand-driven by students and employers. Unrolling this year is a new program called Connecting the Mekong initiative, through Education and Training, or COMET. It will, as Secretary Kerry announced, leverage technology and innovative partnerships with companies like Google to help train university graduates in Lower Mekong nations, including Vietnam, in technical skills that will help to make them more competitive in the 21st century.”

Shortcoming can be the mother of success. For example, we have learned in education partnerships that it is difficult to achieve diffusion of partner universities successes to others in Vietnam. Rectors and professors are already overloaded. The Lower Mekong Initiative has generated useful dialogue on a variety of subjects, but we would like more to have resulted in consensus and concerted action. With strategic focus and political will, however, it seems that more can be achieved. An example is the new consensus on sustainable development of the Mekong river, which would cite the relevance of social and environmental impacts to infrastructure planning.

We have learned the value of patience and a shared vocabulary. As part of recent multilateral coordination on input to the draft law on associations, for example, we draw on lessons learned from a decade ago. In just a few years we have reached a new level of understanding on the concept and value of civil society, but that understanding is not fully appreciated in all quarters. We can be confident, however, that Vietnam’s strong push for comprehensive international integration and the energetic engagement of its youth will accelerate such transformations and the country’s success.

Secretary Kerry said of the new Post-2015 Development Agenda that it establishes “a vision of a better world that provides opportunities for the most vulnerable, and puts our planet on a sustainable path.  We must now turn our attention towards implementation to make this vision a reality.” In Vietnam, two related questions drive any discussion of future cooperation: what do the people of Vietnam hope for their development, and what do the peoples of our countries hope for our relations?

The new SDGs are a start, and I should note again that the objectives of our Comprehensive Partnership align very closely with the SDGs. We are pleased to be part of discussions of Vietnam’s Socio-Economic Development Plan. But today I will like to highlight the results of a recent survey on the perspectives of the Vietnamese people. In terms of development, they want more attention paid to environment and climate change challenges, and to Vietnam’s competitiveness. We have a panelist who is perfectly positioned to address the latter point. 74 percent of the survey respondents strongly agreed it was more important to protect the environment even if it meant slower economic growth. More than 50% of respondents rated current investment levels too small for the environment and climate change, wildlife conservation, governance and health. The inclusion of governance in this list is consistent with a survey by the U.N. last year, which found that “honest and responsive government” was one of the top four development priorities identified by over 7 million people surveyed worldwide.

We are working with our partners to ensure that we stay relevant to these priorities. Let me quickly outline how. We see enhanced governance for inclusive growth as important to all priorities. That means work with our government partners to maximize the opportunity of the TPP. Secretary Kerry said in Singapore this week that the TPP “is about a lot more than just creating economic opportunities and this is really important. It’s about raising standards. This agreement initiates a race to the top, not a race to the bottom.” Our assistance is not limited to one FTA. We were excited to hear earlier this week that Vietnam and the European Union reached core agreement on an FTA, and that their agreement similarly emphasizes cooperation that should boost sustainable development.

Cooperation on governance and the rule of law is heavily dependent on public participation, accountability and transparency, which is why we will continue to grow our civil society programs and collaboration with the National Assembly. We hope that the government’s final law on associations sustains hope for a more inclusive and participatory Vietnam. With government support, we have already added nine independent Vietnamese NGOs to our list of partners since 2013. Another NGO, the Action Center for Community Development, which will be represented on the upcoming panel, is just a few days away from potentially becoming the tenth NGO partner on that list. Party-to-party programs and cooperation to support the National Assembly will also feature in our future.

The environment and climate change will continue to be a big part of our cooperation, as the survey suggests it should be. Secretary Kerry said that “climate change is a danger to everyone, but it’s also an enormous economic opportunity. It’s a chance for all of us to make the right choices about conservation; about wind, solar, hydro; about fuel, utility standards; about the kind of buildings you build, the kind of energy sources with which you power your businesses; and about setting ambitious targets to reduce the emission of greenhouse gasses.” Our cooperation in Vietnam will cover all those opportunities, and we hope it extends to other development partners active in that area such as the EU and many EU members. A strong commitment by Vietnam on its Intended National Defined Contributions at the UN Climate Change Conference late this year will be one measure of progress. And we have great hopes for the rapid growth in our cooperation on wildlife trafficking.

Health cooperation has accounted for almost half of U.S. funding in Vietnam. Although that percentage will diminish as the scope of our cooperation broadens and Vietnam takes leadership on ARVs and human resource costs, we will see active collaboration on domestic and regional health security threats. The Centers for Disease Control and USAID are working with the government on an ambitious roadmap for the Global Health Security Agenda, and later this month Vietnam will host a conference on the vision for the zoonotic element of the Agenda. This cooperation builds on support that helped Vietnam address and learn from the health and economic impact of the SARs crisis.

The multiplier effect of cooperation on science and technology explains an increasing investment in that form of cooperation. We look forward to relying on a new relationship with the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology, collaborating on initiatives that arose from the separate visits of NASA’s and EPA’s administrators, and supporting additional Partnerships for Enhanced Engagement in Research. We hope to establish a new higher education partnership program in the STEM fields this year, and of course the Vietnam Education Foundation and President Obama’s Young Southeast Asian Leaders Initiative will strengthen science and technology learning.

Finally, we hope that in all areas we can employ past lessons learned and find new ways to be efficient. In the survey I mentioned earlier, a strong majority of respondents familiar with our assistance rated it as fairly or very effective, with the percentage ranging by type of assistance from 77% to 100%. We can do still better, and one way is through progress in multilateral cooperation with government on a new decree 38, one which accelerates and makes more nimble the assistance of all Vietnam’s development partners. In a minute, we will be recognizing MPI in part for efforts so far to do just that.

I am confident that everyone involved in development cooperation in Vietnam feels very positive. I feel extremely privileged to be part of this time in this place. That’s true of my colleagues at USAID, for many of whom this conference has been a labor of love. In fact most of our employees are Vietnamese citizens dedicated to making their country a development success. The work of development is challenging and comes with risks. But partners and colleagues like you here inspire us every day. The Vietnamese people have a saying - có công mài sắt có ngày nên kim. People willing to invest time, effort and their utmost to do their work, they will finally succeed. Many Vietnamese and Americans are doing exactly that under the label of U.S.-Vietnam development cooperation, and we have great appreciation for their determination and efforts.

Issuing Country