Vietnam - Spain: Four decades of developing side-by-side

Update: 20:12 | 29/05/2018
On the occasion of the 41st anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Spain (23 May 1977 - 23 May 2018), Spanish Ambassador to Vietnam María Jesús Figa spoke with The World and Vietnam Report about the future prospects of bilateral relations between the two countries.
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Your Excellency, it’s been more than four decades since the establishment of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Spain and almost a decade since the two countries became strategic partners. How do you assess the results of promoting bilateral relations?

Vietnam and Spain have spent 41 years working and developing together. It is not a long time, but over the four decades, Vietnam and Spain have achieved many important milestones. The two countries have always maintained a friendly and smooth relationship right from the beginning.

vietnam spain four decades of developing side by side
Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Spanish Ambassador to Vietnam María Jesús Figa. (Photo: Nguyen Hong)

Bilateral relations between Vietnam and Spain have also brought about remarkable results, including development cooperation. Up until two years ago, when Vietnam started moving to a new development stage with a high growth rate, Vietnam was no longer the target of Spanish development cooperation projects. However, Spain previously invested about 350 million USD in all development projects in Vietnam. We can proudly say that Vietnam is one of Spain’s most important partners. Spain would like to congratulate Vietnam and we are also proud to play a part in helping Vietnam achieve its development goals.

In the past, Latin America was our priority area because Spain and Latin America share many similarities and we have unique relations. But in the last 40 years, Spain has gradually shifted its attention to Vietnam, a country which is geographically distant, but we have always been trying to grow closer in many sectors.

While the world continues on a path of globalization, connectivity between two distant countries like Vietnam and Spain is not a big deal. In recent years, the number of Spanish people visiting Vietnam has increased the most in comparison to other European countries. And vice versa, the Spanish Embassy in Vietnam can see a significant increase in the number of visas issued to Vietnamese people visiting Spain. Vietnam is also becoming more well-known in Spain due to the efforts of the Vietnamese Embassy in Spain.

The internet, social media and other social activities are great ways to stay in touch with each other. Spanish football is a good example, since football is a sport that both our people really enjoy. In addition, the Spanish language is an important asset that our country shares with many others, especially in Latin America, and it is also the second most spoken language on the planet. At present, Spanish is receiving more and more attention from young Vietnamese people. The number of students studying this language has also increased significantly. I believe that language will be a useful tool to bring people in both countries closer together.

In terms of economy and trade, the two countries' bilateral trade turnover has reached nearly 3 billion USD in 2017 and we expect that this number will increase in the coming years. Since Spanish businesses’ interests in the Vietnamese market are rising every day, the presence of Spanish businesses in Vietnam is also becoming increasingly apparent. There are many businesses interested in investing in the Vietnamese market as well as opening representative offices and building factories in Vietnam.

As its economy grows steadily, Vietnam is becoming one of Spain’s main partners in ASEAN. Could you suggest which sectors should be concentrated on to boost trade cooperation?

Although trade between the two countries has reached nearly 3 billion USD, it is unbalanced. Spain imports more products from Vietnam than it exports to Vietnam. This is an unwanted imbalance and we hope that in the future, the two countries can bring more positive changes to trade.

vietnam spain four decades of developing side by side
Spanish Ambassador to Vietnam María Jesús Figa at the interview with The World and Vietnam Report. (Photo: Tuan Anh)

The Spanish government is also interested in exporting agricultural products to the Southeast Asian market such as jamón (Spanish ham), wine and champagne. Wine is a top cultural and agricultural industry in our country, however, its presence in the Vietnamese market is lacking. In addition, we are also trying to quickly complete administrative procedures to soon bring Spanish beef products to the Vietnamese market.

With the current growth momentum in Vietnam, there are two main areas in which Spain has a lot of experience and can help your country, namely infrastructure and energy. In terms of infrastructure, we have a lot of experience in building and managing airports. Many Spanish businesses are preparing to bid for the construction and supply of airport facilities such as radar systems and airport traffic management in Vietnam. Spain is considered one of the leading countries in this field in Europe and Latin America.

In the field of energy, there is also the presence of Spanish businesses specialized in renewable energy. This is an extremely important field for every country in the world, and we think Vietnam shares our interest.

The Spanish Embassy in Vietnam will also commit to help strengthening the cooperation between the two countries. Hopefully, in the future, we can boost trade cooperation as well as the two countries' economies so that trade turnover can increase.

The Vietnam-EU Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) may be signed and ratified by the end of this year, and this is a major opportunity for the two countries to further diplomatic relations. Could you share with us the interest and participation of Spain in this agreement and your own expectations of the EVFTA after it is officially ratified?

Spain in particular and the European Union in general have always believed in the mechanism of free trade in all aspects. Since opening up its market, Spain has received a lot of benefits. That's why we always support the EVFTA and hope it is ratified as quickly as possible. The EU is one of the largest investors and it has also received a lot of investments. The EU is always protecting open and free markets in which people have equal opportunities and benefits.

However, at present, I can not say specifically what areas we should focus on. But surely, when the EVFTA comes into operation, it will become an important bridge, opening up many new development directions for the economy, boosting trade between the two sides. In addition, Vietnam is a significant member of ASEAN, so Spain and the EU hope that through the EVFTA, we will have greater access not only to the Vietnamese market but also to the region.

As you only started your term not so long ago, can you share some impressions of Vietnam since you start working here?

My first visit to Vietnam was in 2006. At that time, I was the Director General of the Department of International Economic Relations and I was a part of the accompanying delegation during the official visit to Vietnam of the King of Spain. On that trip, I had a lot of good impressions of your country. But the trip was quite short, so I did not have the opportunity to learn more about Vietnam’s culture and its people. That is why I chose Vietnam as the next destination in my diplomatic career.

So far, after working here for a year, all my wishes, dreams and fantasies about your country have come true. I feel even happier than I expected. For me, Vietnam is a very attractive country with a long history and culture. The people are hardworking and very curious, always trying to learn new things and are very optimistic about life. That may be why foreigners like me feel welcome here.

Moreover, despite the geographical distance and the fact that our customs and habits are very different, Vietnam does not pose any inconveniences to us. One of the greatest things about being a diplomat is that you have a chance to discover and explore many places around the world, but Vietnam has left a very strong impression on me. I hope that in the future, Vietnam will develop more and more in all aspects.

Thank you very much, Your Excellency!

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