Ambassador Bruno Angelet received us in a cold day in the middle of Hanoi’s winter in his office. During the conversation, the Ambassador sometimes spoke in Vietnamese, suggesting his tight bonds with Vietnam.
Your Excellency Mr Ambassador, the EU-Vietnam relationship during 2015 was marked with a large number of diplomatic and economic events. Which ones are the most relevant and meaningful?
The first event is the visit of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung to Brussels. It was a very good and fruitful visit. The second major event was while PM Nguyen Tan Dung was in Brussels, we declared the conclusion of negotiations of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement.
The third major event is that the European Parliament has ratified the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) with Vietnam.
The joint statement between the EU and Vietnamese leadership in December 2015 was a good text with an action plan for the future.
The conclusion of the FTA
on the same occasion was a major step forward. If you look at the trade policy of the EU in Asia so far, we have concluded FTAs with South Korea, Singapore and Vietnam is the third nation. We are very happy because it is a good and modern text.
Obviously, with this success, we hope the other members of ASEAN
will see the great opportunity of signing an FTA with the EU.
The PCA is a comprehensive partnership which includes all agreements we have with Vietnam. The relationship between the EU and Vietnam moves beyond aid and trade because the PCA will develop new cooperation projects in areas of education, science-technology, and the rule of law.
Comparing to other ASEAN countries, we can see that Vietnam’s economy has developed tremendously over the last 30 years. Vietnam’s exports are equivalent to 83% of its Vietnam’s economy, second only to Singapore where the ratio is almost 200%.
Vietnam’s exports-to-GDP ratio can increase to 100%. However, the problem is that most of Vietnamese exports are made by foreign companies.
At a press briefing in December 2015, you said that the EU-Vietnam FTA was expected to trigger a bigger wave of European investment in Vietnam. Could you elaborate on the EU investment trend in the time to come?
In comparison with 2014, European investment in Vietnam was multiplied by four in 2015. Collectively, investment from the EU moved from the sixth-highest place in 2014 to the third in 2015.
My ambition is that when I finish my four year term, the EU will be the number 1 investor in Vietnam. We really believe that Vietnam is attractive and we want to help Vietnam get more from our investors.
Even before the EU-Vietnam FTA has been concluded and enters into force, there is already an increase in European investment. Why? The financial crisis in Europe is a little behind now. The European economy is in a better shape now, so we start again to invest.
My prediction is that the new leadership has an agenda to implement the EU-Vietnam FTA. Before the FTA enters into force, likely in 2018, the leadership now can move on quickly to prepare the implementation.
The signals we send are very positive, so I am sure that European investors see we have an FTA with Vietnam, which is in the ASEAN Economic Community, the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership), and has an FTA with South Korea.
If European investors seek to invest in Asian, they will choose Vietnam obviously, because Vietnam is competitive with other big countries like Indonesia. But on the top of that, Vietnam has more than the others because Vietnam has joined the TPP and has an FTA with the Eurasian Economic Union.
My real hope is that the Vietnamese leadership can send the signal. Therefore, you should go back to the visit of PM Nguyen Tan Dung to Brussels and read the joint statement, which says that we would endorse the Indicative Roadmap for Implementation.
I hope that with Minister Vu Huy Hoang [of Industry and Trade] or his successor, in spring we could endorse an Indicative Roadmap. That is a very strong signal because the roadmap will list the things we have to do by early 2018.
Head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam, Ambassador Bruno Angelet. (Photo: Viet Khoi/BizLIVE)
As far as I know, you have been living and working in Vietnam for 20 years, thus you should have strong bonds with this country. Would you mind sharing some of your unforgettable memories with Vietnam?
It’s not exact I have been working in Vietnam for 20 years. I first worked in Vietnam between 1994 and 1998, then I moved to Turkey, Germany and the EU. I returned to Vietnam four years ago, meaning that I have been living and working in Vietnam for eight years in total.
About 20 years ago, I took my bike, I did jogging and I crossed the Long Bien bridge. It was very impressive as the traffic mainly comprised of bicycles. Farmers went in the morning to sell vegetables in market places in the inner city. In the evening, they went back to the countryside. Now things are very different.
In the future, Hanoi could be extremely attractive if the Bãi Giữa (an island emerging in the middle of the Red River, beneath the Long Bien bridge) becomes a big park with playground.
Vietnam will attract more tourists because Hanoi is unique in Southeast Asia for having the Old Quarter. Last year, I invited the Belgian ambassadors in Southeast Asia to a conference here. They all said Hanoi was fantastic and said they would come back.
Twenty years ago when I first came here, between quarters there were courtyards where kids could play. And if you there today, they are full of motorbikes.
In the Old Quarter of Hanoi, the local authority is doing a good thing. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, there are no cars or motorbike permitted on some streets. It’s quite good!
It seems that your first Lunar New Year in Vietnam was in 2015. What were your feelings then? Will you spend 2016 Tet holiday in Vietnam? What would you like to do if you stay for Tet?
I have spent several Tet holidays in Vietnam because my wife is from Hanoi. We will stay in Hanoi this Tet because we stay with my father-in-law. My kids also enjoy staying in Hanoi.
Tet is very special, of course. Twenty years ago I didn’t understand very well. Vietnamese friends invited me to their house and told me to take green leaves with me.
What surprises westerners is the fact that Tet is also an occasion to commemorate the ancestors, pray and prepare food for the ancestors before you eat. My family and I also made banh chung (square glutinous rice cake). I don’t see many people cooking banh chung anymore and it’s a bit nostalgic.
What are your greetings for the Vietnamese people in general and the BizLIVE newspaper in particular as Lunar New Year 2016 is nearing?
I wish that this year Vietnamese people no longer suffer from natural disasters. Every year, there are many people dying because of typhoons and other disasters. So I hope weather conditions will be better. You will have enough water for the agriculture in the South.
I hope that with the government’s success in stabilizing the economy, next year’s inflation will stay low and that prices will not go up quickly because that is a big problem for people in their daily life.
I hope that the economy will go better and the country will open up to work with Europe and other countries. And that many students will go abroad and come back home with good experience.
I wish the best for the people of Vietnam. And I really hope that together, Europe and Vietnam can do much more for Vietnam.
As Vietnam has new leadership in spring, so I hope with the new leadership we can as quickly as possible start working on new priorities.