Diplomats, firms discuss trade among Vietnam, Africa, Middle East

Update: 11:28 | 10/09/2019
Economic ties between African and Middle Eastern countries and Southeast Asia in general, Vietnam in particular is still constrained, said Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh at the two-day conference ‘Meet Ambassadors from the Middle East and Africa 2019’ held by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs from September 9 to 10 in Ha Noi.
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Addressing the panel discussions for boosting trade cooperation within the framework of the conference, Foreign Minister Minh said that despite 16 free trade agreements already being inked, Vietnam has had none with any countries within Africa and the Middle East.

diplomats firms discuss trade among vietnam africa middle east
An overview of the panel discussion. (Photo: Tuan Anh)

Potentials leaving untapped

Africa and the Middle East together make up a vast area of 36 million sq.km, with a population of 1.8 billion. Many international experts held that Africa could be the growth momentum for the global economy.

Vietnam has established diplomatic relations with 69/70 African and Middle Eastern countries with bilateral trade of over 17.5 billion USD, an increase of over 300 percent from 2008 to 2018.

According to insiders, African and Middle Eastern countries have high demand for farm produces, especially tropical ones, due to their harsh natural conditions.

However, according to Deputy Foreign Minister Nguyen Quoc Cuong, the bilateral trade value of 18 billion USD in 2018 show its humble contribution to Vietnam’s total trade value of 480 billion USD.

Therefore, during the panel discussions, participants discussed concrete to overcome obstacles hindering two-way trade in order to unlock potentials in bilateral cooperation.

Obstacles hindering two-way trade

Speaking about difficulties facing two-way trade between Vietnam and Africa, Middle East regions, Foreign Minister Minh said that a lack of insights into each other’s market, business practices and legal system is among major obstacles hindering the cooperation between Vietnam and the regions.

Besides, he also stressed the far distance between Vietnam and the two regions also result in an improper attention of relevant ministries, agencies and enterprises of the two sides.

Foreign Minister Minh also pointed out that ineffective bilateral cooperation mechanisms have yet to fully exploit potentials in trade cooperation between the parties.

From their own experiences in doing business with countries from the Middle East, Deputy General Manager of Lavifood Joint Stock Company Duong Thi Bich Diep voiced her concern over the Middle Eastern enterprises' long habit of not using Letter of Credit for making payment, which results in a huge risk for Vietnamese enterprises.

Timely conference with practical discussions

According to Tarzania Ambassador to Vietnam Mblewa Brighton Kairuki, the conference was organised at the right time as Africa is ratifying the Africa continental free trade area and the continent is welcoming Vietnamese enterprises to do business to take advantage of the free trade area.

diplomats firms discuss trade among vietnam africa middle east
Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and delegates at the conference. (Photo: Tuan Anh)

Mr. Maher Al Arayssi, Chief of Representative Office and Purchasing Manager of Lebanon-based C-food International said that through meetings with ambassadors, international development organisations and business partners during the event, businesses like his have identified several problems they are facing to come up with effective measures.

Suggesting the way to boost bilateral trade cooperation, both sides needs “more aggressiveness”, which means more delegations, both from the government and businesses should be regularly exchanged, according to Adib Kouteili, Co-founder & Director of PEB Steel Buildings Co., Ltd, a business participating in the event.

Diplomats from both sides also discussed measures to enhance cooperation in such fields of mutual strength and demand, including agriculture and telecommunications.

Foreign Minister Minh suggested that the both sides enhance cooperation and assistance in not only bilateral forums but also multilateral ones, such as the United Nations and cooperation mechanisms between Vietnam and the African Union and between Middle Eastern, African countries and Vietnam.

Participants also voiced their expectation that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs would continue hosting similar events in the future, which offer opportunities for enterprises from both sides to meet up and meet with policy makers, in order to boost bilateral trade.

They also asked the diplomats and policy makers to accelerate negotiations in order to facilitate trade and investment between Vietnam and Africa, the Middle East.

An initiative of establishing a portal for trade and investment between Vietnam and Africa, the Middle East was voiced during the trade panel. The portal is expected to provide market insights as well as information of potential partners for enterprises from both sides.

According to Deputy General Manager of Lavifood Joint Stock Company Duong Thi Bich Diep, the portal will save enterprises’ time and effort in market research while performing as a secured platform for enterprises to expand their business to the both sides’ markets as it is government guaranteed.

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(Source: VNA)