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Vietnam has rich natural resources: rice (world's second largest exporter), fruit, coffee (world's third largest producer), tea, cashew nuts, marine produce, coal, off-shore oil and gas, hydro-electricity; and a well-educated and diligent population of 81.6million.

Vietnam's small economy, non-convertible currency and its then lack of a stock exchange sheltered it from the worst of the Asian financial crisis. Between 1992 and 1997 GDP growth did not fall below 8% per year but in 1998 economic growth slowed sharply and decelerated further in 1999.

The Vietnamese economy performed reasonably well in 2002 with GDP growth of 7.0% according to the Vietnamese Government. Strong domestic demand in 2002 drove up the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to 4.3% growth compared to 0.8% in 2001. Given the global situation, 10% export growth has been a considerable achievement, the high price of oil and the massive increase in exports to the US (from US$900 million in 2001 to US$2.2 billion in 2002) were the main contributory factors. The fact that 2002 was the first full year of the Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA) with the US was also significant.

The economy during the first half of 2003 appears to be performing well. Export earnings increased by 17%. GDP continued to grow at 7%. The value of industrial production also rose by 15% during this period. All this was achieved despite the SARS crisis that hit the country.

Standard of living

Vietnam has widely differing cost of living indicators. Local wages can be as low as US$30 per month for blue-collar workers, but much higher in foreign companies. Costs for foreign companies are much higher, especially for commercial, residential and telecommunications. Costs for foreigners are however, falling and this trend is said to be continuing. Goods produced locally and purchased in local markets are cheap. Food and accommodation is of a high quality and low price.

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