(Adds quotes from Phuc speech, more details on deals)
By Roberta Rampton and David Brunnstrom
WASHINGTON, May 31 (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump talked trade with Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc during a White House visit on Wednesday and welcomed the signing of business deals worth billions of dollars and the jobs they would create.
General Electric Co said earlier it had signed deals with Vietnam worth about $5.58 billion for power generation, aircraft engines and services, its largest ever single combined sale with the country.
Caterpillar Inc and its dealer in Vietnam also agreed to provide generator management technology for more than 100 generators in Vietnam, the company said.
“They (Vietnam) just made a very large order in the United States - and we appreciate that - for many billions of dollars, which means jobs for the United States and great, great equipment for Vietnam,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Phuc told the Heritage Foundation after his meeting with Trump he had signed deals for U.S. goods and services worth $15 billion during his three-day U.S. visit, most involving the import of U.S. equipment.
He said on Tuesday the deals were mainly for high-technology products and for services, but gave no details and the value of deals announced thus far by U.S. firms was lower than the figure given by Phuc.
Communist Vietnam has gone from being a Cold War enemy to an important partner for the United States in the Asia-Pacific, where both countries share concerns about China’s rising power.
Phuc told Trump the relationship had undergone “significant upheavals in history,” but that the two countries were now “comprehensive partners.”
Phuc’s meeting with Trump makes him the first Southeast Asian leader to visit the White House under the new administration.
However, while Hanoi and Washington have stepped up security cooperation in recent years, trade has become a potential irritant, with a deficit widening steadily in Vietnam’s favor, reaching $32 billion last year, compared with $7 billion a decade earlier.
Trump, who has had strong words for countries with large trade surpluses with the United States, said he would be discussing trade with Phuc, as well as North Korea.
Washington has been seeking support to pressure North Korea to drop its nuclear and missile programs, which have become an increasing threat to the United States. Hanoi has said it shares concerns about North Korea.
In his Heritage speech, Phuc welcomed Trump’s plans to attend the November APEC summit in Hanoi. He called it a sign of U.S. commitment to the region and “an important occasion for the United States to assert its positive role.”
In a reference to somewhat warmer ties between Washington and Beijing under Trump - who has been courting China’s support on North Korea - Phuc said Vietnam welcomed good relations between the two powers, but hoped these would serve the interest of other nations in the region too.
He urged Washington and Beijing “to act with full transparency and in a responsible manner so as not to impact negatively the region and relations among other nations.”
“NICE, BUT NOT ENOUGH”
Murray Hiebert, a Southeast Asia expert at Washington’s Center for Strategic and International Studies, said that while the Trump administration welcomed new business deals with Vietnam, its view was they were “nice, but not enough.”
”They want Vietnam to bring some ideas about how to tackle the surplus on an ongoing basis,” he said.
On Tuesday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer expressed concern about the rapid growth of the deficit with Vietnam. He said it was a new challenge for the two countries and he was looking to Phuc to help address it.
The deficit is Washington’s sixth largest and reflects growing imports of Vietnamese semiconductors and other electronics products in addition to more traditional sectors such as footwear, apparel and furniture.
Phuc said the two economies were “more complementary than competitive” and said U.S. exports to Vietnam had seen a rapid rise.
On Tuesday his trade minister, Tran Tuan Anh, presented Lighthizer with suggestions to address some U.S. concerns, such as advertising on U.S. social media, electronic payment services and imports of information security and farm products, Vietnam’s trade ministry said.
Vietnam also urged the United States to remove an inspection program for catfish, speed import licenses for its fruit and make fair decisions on anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on Vietnamese products, the ministry said.
Vietnam was disappointed when Trump ditched the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact, of which Hanoi was expected to be one of the main beneficiaries, and focused U.S. trade policy on reducing deficits. (Reporting by Roberta Rampton, David Brunnstrom, David Lawder and Mike Stone; Editing by Toni Reinhold, Jonathan Oatis and Diane Craft)