The Vietnamese economy is still essentially agricultural; the scarcity of mineral resources and the development of modern industry, limited to some very restricted areas, did not favor its evolution in the modern sense, delayed by the way, even by the long period of the guerrilla warfare, so that alongside advanced economic forms large residues of the traditional economy are found throughout the country, which still constitute its substratum. The current economic situation marks a gradual recovery but with different addresses between the north and south of the country as a result of the political division, which has entailed different economic systems and the support of foreign countries for financing and technical assistance.
The traditional economy is agricultural and artisanal. Agriculture is still clearly differentiated between mountains and plains in relation to the ethnic groups that practice it. In the mountains, the lands on the slopes and on the top are freed from the luxuriant spontaneous vegetation by fire. The soil thus obtained is cultivated with rice, corn, legumes, opium poppy; not fertilized it rapidly impoverishes, so after 3-4 years the fields are abandoned and replaced by others, obtained in the same way, in areas even distant from the former. The land at the bottom of the valley, on the other hand, is adapted to permanent and irrigated paddy fields. In the plains, stable paddy fields predominate, intensively cultivated in the north, where two harvests per year are obtained; with extensive cultivation in the rest of the country. On the highest and driest soils, emerging from the rice fields, corn, legumes and potatoes are grown. All these products are intended for local food, which is supplemented by fishing, hunting and the breeding of farmyard animals. Local character also has craftsmanship, widespread and often rudimentary, which provides for the most immediate needs of the populations; trade outside the local area has been in the hands of the Chinese for centuries.
More advanced economic and technical forms have arisen since the end of the last century by the French. First of all, the regularization of the delta hydraulic systems with the construction of dams and the excavation of canals has increased the yield of rice in the north and allowed the acquisition of new land for crops in the south. At the same time, new food crops were spreading, soil processing systems were improved and industrial plantations were started; the hevea in the Dong Nai basin, north-east of Saigon (75,000 tons of rubber per year); coffee in the red lands of the southern highlands, cotton, kapok, etc. Fishing has had a notable increase with the development of the industries connected to it, while the exploitation of forests (44% of the territory) is always difficult due to the lack of communications.
More recent is the exploitation of mineral resources, almost all in the north. Coal from the coastal area near Along Bay (over 2 million tonnes) and from the Nong Song field (20,000 tonnes per year) in the south is the basis of industrial development and is also exported; Zinc and tin are extracted from the mining basin in the mountain region north of Hanoi and the product, refined on site, is exported through Haiphong. Other minerals (phosphates, apatite, chromium) have always been found in the north but their exploitation is still in its infancy.
Industries have developed in the two delta regions in correspondence with the major urban centers, in the heart of the most populated areas. In the south, the main industries are still food (rice mills in Cholon, distilleries in Saigon, sugar mills in Tay Ninh, Hiep Hoa, tobacco, soap factories, etc.); while glassworks, pharmaceuticals and mechanics are developing. In the north, in addition to foodstuffs (distilleries in Hanoi, Nam Dinh and Hai Duong, rice factories in Hanoi, Haiphong, Nam Dinh and Dap Cau, etc.), the cement and glass factories of Haiphong, the mechanical industries of Hanoi and industries acquire great importance. textiles (cotton mills in Haiphong and Nam Dinh, where silk is also processed).
Land communications are ensured by over 27,000 km of roads and about 2,000 km of railways, both hinged on a north-south route, which ensures connections between the different parts of the territory. From this meridian axis the penetration routes branch off towards the mountainous interior and at the extremities, corresponding to the deltaic plains, a radial of streets connects the two capitals with the very populous surrounding territory and with the borders of the country. Hanoi is connected to China by the Southern Railway to Lang Son and the Yunnan Railway which follows the Red River Valley to Lao Kay. A dense network of navigable canals intersects the two deltas, completing the communications system, with a development of over 4600 km in the south and about 2000 km in the north. The inland waterways lead to the main ports: Saigon and Haiphong where ocean navigation and foreign trade are concentrated. Saigon has an annual movement of over 1000 ships, about 5000 passengers and 4 million tons of freight; About 1500 ships enter Haiphong which unload and load 3 million tons of goods.
Also important are air communications, recently developed: in the north the airports of Hanoi and Haiphong have significant traffic, in the south Da Nang, Nha Trang and Dalat are used for internal communications while Saigon has international importance (about 5,000 aircraft and 74,000 passengers in 1957)
Foreign exchanges are affected by recent political and military events; the two states have essentially become importers, although in recent years the increase in exports (rubber, rice, tobacco in the south; coal, cement, rice in the north) tends to reduce the deficit of trade balances.