Oakland Mayor Shent Thao stands at a podium.
Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao Credit: Amir Aziz

Oakland Mayor Sheng Thao is leading a trade delegation to Vietnam, marking her first official overseas trip.

The mayor, Alameda County officials, members of the Port of Oakland’s board, and several staff will be departing for Vietnam on Saturday, according to statements from the mayor and port. The purpose of the trip is to promote Oakland as a trading partner with Vietnam. Thao, the city’s first mayor of Southeast Asian descent, will be visiting with Vietnamese officials until August 8.

“Economic development is a priority for my Administration and there is great opportunity to build on our existing relationship with Vietnam and our sister city of Da Nang, particularly on the heels of Port of Oakland’s $119 million grant from the state,” Thao said in a statement, referring to funds awarded to the port earlier this month to improve facilities and electrify cargo handling equipment. 

It’s not unusual for Oakland mayors to travel internationally to promote the city’s interests. In 2015, Libby Schaaf flew to Paris for a United Nations summit to discuss the role cities can play in the fight against climate change. Jean Quan went to China in 2011 to bolster trade ties. All travel costs for the mayor are covered by the Port of Oakland, which has sponsorship from two business associations. 

More than 99% of the containerized goods that move through Northern California travel through the Port of Oakland, making it one of the city’s most valuable assets. The port is an independent department of Oakland’s government and is managed by a board of seven commissioners selected by the mayor and approved by City Council. The port also oversees the Oakland International Airport and much of Oakland’s waterfront. Earlier this month, port commissioners approved a $558 million 2024 budget for the port.

About 75% of Oakland’s trade is with Asia, including China, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, India, and Vietnam. Between 2015 and 2018, the port experienced a 126% increase in exports to Vietnam, making the country Oakland’s third-largest import market and fifth-largest export market. 

“We’re headed to Vietnam to explore new trade opportunities, expand to new markets, and meet with government officials, global maritime distributors, and clean energy industry leaders,” said Port Executive Director Danny Wan in a statement. 

The delegation’s itinerary includes a trip to Hanoi City and meetings with Vietnam’s Prime Minister, Pham Minh Chinh. The group will also travel to Oakland’s sister city, Da Nang City, for a signing ceremony between the ports. 

Oakland is one of the principal routes for exporting farm goods from the Central Valley. According to data collected by the Observatory of Economic Complexity, Oakland’s top exports include nuts, meat, and wine, and its top imports are electric batteries, cars, and vehicle parts, among others.

Oakland’s trade delegation is being sponsored and planned by two groups: the Bay Area Council, which represents a coalition of business interests in the Bay Area and promotes economic development; and the Vietnamese American Business Association, which was formed by Victor Duong, the vice president of California Waste Solutions, Oakland’s curbside recycling provider. Duong’s company also serves San Jose, which has the largest Vietnamese population outside Vietnam.

“Vietnam has one of Asia’s fastest growing and most dynamic economies, and the potential for expanding and deepening our trade, investment and global supply chain connections is extremely exciting,” said Jim Wunderman, President and CEO of the Bay Area Council. 

Eli Wolfe reports on City Hall for The Oaklandside. He was previously a senior reporter for San José Spotlight, where he had a beat covering Santa Clara County’s government and transportation. He also worked as an investigative reporter for the Pasadena-based newsroom FairWarning, where he covered labor, consumer protection and transportation issues. He started his journalism career as a freelancer based out of Berkeley. Eli’s stories have appeared in The Atlantic, NBCNews.com, Salon, the San Francisco Chronicle, and elsewhere. Eli graduated from UC Santa Cruz and grew up in San Francisco.