Law Reform in Vietnam: The Uneven Legacy of Doi Moi

22 Pages Posted: 14 May 2007

See all articles by Spencer Weber Waller

Spencer Weber Waller

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Lan Cao

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law


As a result of the program of social, political, and economic reforms called doi moi" (meaning renovation) implemented by the Communist Party in 1986, market forces have been allowed to operate in Vietnam subject to state supervision. The centerpiece of doi moi has been to attract foreign investment. The results of this reform, as this brief article will show, have been mixed: South Vietnam has had far more success attracting foreign investors than North Vietnam, and much of the foreign capital has flowed to the urban areas, leaving the countryside woefully underdeveloped.

Even where development has progressed, however, the legal and other infrastructure has been inadequate to sustain the needs of a complex market economy. Furthermore, economic liberalization has not been followed by the same degree of political liberalizatin. Lastly, in pursuit of most-favored-nation [MFN] status, Vietnam has felt compelled to let the United States dictate the terms of trade, especially with regard to the enforcement of intellectual property rights. Vietnam, however, is still a poor country in which a black market for counterfeit goods thrives, partially because foreign brand-name goods are simply not affordable to the average citizen.

In Section I, we provide a general sketch of the role which foreign legal experts play in the law reform of transitional legal systems. In Sections II and III, we relate, through a series of vignettes, our experiences lecturing on U.S. law topics to Vietnamese law students and legal academics and conversing with ordinary Vietnamese citizens. Lastly, in Section IV, we reflect on the flourishing black market in consumer products in Vietnam and the futility of the current U.S. policy of making intellectual property rights enforcement the sine qua non of its trade strategy with Vietnam.

Keywords: Vietnam, Doi Moi, law reform, rule of law, foreign investment, intellectual property, black market, WTO, MFN

JEL Classification: F00, F01, F02, F36, F43, O10, 019, P20, P27, P30

Suggested Citation

Waller, Spencer Weber and Cao, Lan, Law Reform in Vietnam: The Uneven Legacy of Doi Moi. New York University Journal of International Law and Politics (JILP), Vol. 29, p. 555, 1997, Available at SSRN:

Spencer Weber Waller (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E Pearson St.
Room 1041
Chicago, IL 60611
United States
312-915-7137 (Phone)
312-915-7201 (Fax)

Lan Cao

Chapman University, The Dale E. Fowler School of Law ( email )

One University Drive
Orange, CA 92866-1099
United States
7146282659 (Phone)


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