Your Excellency Mme. Ambassador, could you highlight the most significant events in the Israel-Vietnam relationship in 2016?
On politics and diplomacy, there has been an increase in the number of visits to Vietnam paid by Israel’s high-ranking officials and experts, and vice versa. We have expanded cooperation in the fields of agriculture, defense and science-technology, etc.
Regarding economic and trade cooperation, trade between the two nations reached $2.38 billion in 2015. Trade data for the whole 2016 is not available yet, but am quite positive about it. The two governments are making utmost efforts to accelerate negotiations of the bilateral Free Trade Agreement (FTA
With regard to investment, Delta - Israel’s multinational textile and garment corporation - last October opened its first factory worth $20 million in Binh Dinh
province, employing 1,800 local people. This investment is good for Delta and also Binh Dinh, a locality that has not attracted much foreign investment.
On education and training, an increasing number of training courses and workshops have been held in both Vietnam and Israel for Vietnamese students and government officials, in addition to regular courses and experience-sharing events related to current issues such as innovation and smart city.
According to the General Department of Vietnam Customs, trade between Israel and Vietnam dropped 29% year-on-year in the 11 months through November 2016. Could you explain why? How are negotiations of the FTA between Israel and Vietnam going on?
As far as we know, Israel-Vietnam trade totaled $2.38 billion in 2015 while the figure was $2.01 billion for the first 11 months of 2016. We can see a slight decrease in the bilateral trade, which was attributed to a minor decline in Israel’s electronic components exports.
It’s noteworthy that trade potential between the two countries are much further and the two governments and diplomatic missions are making efforts to boost trade and investment in a wide range of sectors. Once being signed, the Israel-Vietnam FTA will remove a significant numbers of trade barriers, thus providing a boost to bilateral trade.
The two governments are working to soon finalize the FTA negotiations. We have held two rounds of negotiations and the third one is scheduled for March 2017.
Ambassador Meirav Eilon Shahar joins a panel on startups in Hanoi in September 2016. Photo: embassies.gov.il
How has Israel been supporting Vietnam in the startup, education and technology fields?
Over the past three years, the Israeli Embassy in Vietnam has been supporting Vietnamese startups in enhancing their capacity through training courses and competitions in both Israel and Vietnam. Further, we have worked with the Vietnamese government to provide assistance in policy making and management
Although ecosystems possess their own features, there are some basic steps to all. That’s what we want to share with you, through policy consultancy or state officials exchanges to tour startup models in Israel.
Israel has also been focused on investing in online education and hi-tech education in Vietnam. For example, the “Time to Know” English teaching program is being applied at a number of major English centers, and Vietnam’s textbooks can be digitalized based on a platform developed by Israel’s Center for Education Technology (CET).
After years in Vietnam as Ambassador, how have you found Vietnam’s people and culture? Among the many provinces in Vietnam you have traveled to, which has impressed you the most?
The Vietnamese are clever, industrious and have particularly high entrepreneurship spirit, which is similar to the Jewish.
During my four years in Vietnam, I have gotten familiar with the Vietnamese culture and I can see Vietnamese and Jewish culture are alike and related. The Vietnamese are very family-oriented and so are the Jewish. The two peoples both treasure home value, they also come back home during holidays to reunite with their families.
Another similarity is that we both value very much the importance of education, which lasts for centuries. We don’t mind spending to make sure our children can enjoy the best education.
Every province has its own unique and special characters and features. I enjoy seeing their own beauty, minorities, customs and traditions.
What are your wishes for Vietnam on the occasion of the Lunar New Year?
As the Year of the Rooster is nearing, I would like to extend my wish for health and prosperity to all the Vietnamese.
2016 was also a busy year for the Israeli Embassy and myself. We conducted a large number of cooperation projects between Vietnam and Israel in the fields of science-technology, agriculture, security as well as education. I am glad to witness that the Vietnam-Israel diplomatic relationship is marching to new heights.
We hope for a 2017 full of advances in the relationship between Vietnam and Israel. I wish the Vietnamese State and people to firmly go forward in your socio-economic path that you have chosen.
Thank you very much, Madam Ambassador!