Your Excellency Mr. Ambassador, could you mention highlights of the Australia-Vietnam relationship during 2015? Do the two nations plan to upgrade their relations to strategic partnership in a near future?
In many ways 2015 was something of a milestone in our bilateral relationship, with several significant developments. The major highlight of course was the visit to Australia by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung in March, leading one of Vietnam’s biggest ever overseas delegations.
During the course of the visit, our two countries signed the Declaration on Enhancing the Australia-Vietnam Comprehensive Partnership, which builds on the agreement, signed in 2009, and further expands the strong relationship between Australia and Vietnam.
Another significant development in 2015 was the first ever shipment of Vietnamese lychees to Australia in June. This was the culmination of many years work by our agriculture ministries and I am truly delighted that Australians can now enjoy delicious Vietnamese lychees.
Towards the end of the year, in October, Australia released its new Aid Investment Plan (AIP) for Vietnam 2015-2020, reaffirming Australia’s commitment to Vietnam’s sustainable development, particularly through investing in Vietnam’s human resources development, its private sector and in women’s empowerment.
Australia has a long history of providing effective development assistance to Vietnam, including supporting the construction of two critical bridges which link people and markets in the Mekong Delta to the rest of South East Asia – the My Thuan Bridge (completed in 2000) and the Cao Lanh bridge, due to be completed next year.
Education continues to be a mainstay of our relationship with around 20,000 Vietnamese students studying in Australia in 2015. Last year also saw the introduction to Vietnam of Australia’s New Colombo Plan, which aims to increase the number of Australians studying part of their degree in the Asia Pacific region, and to deepen their knowledge and understanding of Asia and build people-to-people ties.
There were so many significant developments in our bilateral relationship last year that of course I can’t mention them all. But these, I think, illustrate the breadth of our relationship – the high-level political cooperation; our very important trade relationship, especially in the agricultural area; our development cooperation; and our close ties through education.
In addition to the bilateral relationship, our two countries also share many similar interests in the region and are both members of a raft of regional organizations such as ASEAN, the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and so on. As such, we already consider Vietnam to be an important strategic partner.
Trade turnover between Vietnam and Australia decreased by nearly 19% in the 11 months through November 2015 from a year earlier. Could we expect the figure to increase in the coming years, especially if the TPP is enacted?
The large fall in the value of bilateral trade in 2015 was due to two factors. First and most important was the significant depreciation of the Australian dollar against the U.S. dollar, which greatly reduced the value of trade in U.S. dollar terms. Second was the fall in commodity prices, especially oil prices, as crude petroleum is Vietnam’s largest export to Australia.
These factors will not have the same impact in 2016 and so we expect the trade relationship will return to positive growth again this year. The low Australian dollar makes Australian exports very attractive for Vietnamese consumers now and this should lead to higher demand, including for Australian education services.
Going forward, as Vietnam continues to integrate into the global economy - including through bilateral FTAs, the ASEAN Economic Community, TPP and RCEP - while at the same time pursuing economic reforms to boost productivity and ease of doing business - we expect Vietnam’s trade with Australia and the rest of the world will continue to grow strongly.
Australian Ambassador and Embassy staff celebrating first shipment of lychee exported to Australia. (Photo courtesy: Australian Embassy in Vietnam)
Australian businesses have invested about $1.65 billion in Vietnam as of December 2015, which seemingly does not match the two nations’ potential. Are they interested in increasing investments here? Which sectors are the most appealing to them?
As Australia’s fastest-growing trading partner in ASEAN and a member of the TPP, Vietnam is attracting increasing interest from Australian companies as an investment destination. Already major Australian companies like Santos, BlueScope Steel, ANZ Bank and QBE have investments here.
Some of the sectors that Australian businesses find particularly appealing are Education and Training, Financial Services, Infrastructure and Environment Management, and Mining and Resources.
With the amended Enterprise and Investment Laws becoming effective last year we expect that there will be new incentives for Australian investors. However, a critical issue will be the extent to which Vietnam can provide ongoing policy and regulatory certainty to maintain investor confidence.
Australia has become a favorite destination for Vietnamese students who seek to study abroad. Which incentives do the two governments plan to take to enhance cooperation in education?
Cooperation in education and training is a major strength of the bilateral relationship between Australia and Vietnam. We continue to strengthen that cooperation through a number of mechanisms, including under a Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Education and Training between our respective education ministries, first signed in 1994, and renewed in 2013.
Our two countries promote two way student mobility and transnational education opportunities. A tangible outcome of the long lasting education cooperation is the 50,000 Australian alumni in Vietnam who are the key to mutual understanding, ongoing cooperation, and enduring people to people links between the two countries.
The Australia Awards Scholarships (including the Endeavour Scholarships and Fellowships) support Vietnamese applicants to undertake short-term and full-length post-graduate study, research or professional development opportunities in Australia.
Through the New Colombo Plan and Endeavour mobility grants, the Australian Government supports Australian students to undertake part of their studies in the Asia Pacific region, including Vietnam.
Full or part scholarships are also offered by many Australian education institutions, including significant top-ups to supplement the 911 scholarships under university agreements with the Ministry of Education and Training (MoET).
The prospects for the future are exciting and build on the above encouraging institutional partnerships for twinning programs, student mobility and research collaboration.
For example, we expect to see more research collaborations happening following the Australian government’s recent announcement of the Global Innovation Strategy in which Vietnam is one of the 17 priority economies. There is also open policy dialogue related to transnational education, qualifications recognition, quality assurance, science communication and regulations related to education.
Australian Ambassador and bonsai cumquat artisan Bui The Manh in the lead to Tet 2016. (Photo courtesy: Australian Embassy in Vietnam)
Will you stay in Vietnam during the coming Lunar New Year holiday? Which Vietnamese traditions have left the deepest impression on you?
I have spent two Tets in Vietnam. I have appreciated the opportunity to see the strong cultural and family bonds that are so much on display at this time of year. I have also appreciated the opportunity to see Hanoi with very little traffic, so as to appreciate the beauty of the city even more!
This Tet I will be in Japan, paying my respects at the grave of an ancestor who lived there in the 1800s - so very much in the spirit of Tet.
The tradition which has left the greatest impression on me has been the Vietnamese sense of family – and having become a grandfather during my time in Vietnam, the importance of family has been renewed for me in more ways than one.
What is your message for BizLIVE newspaper in particular and the Vietnamese people in general on the occasion of New Year 2016?
I would like to wish all BizLIVE readers, and all the Vietnamese people a very happy Tet, and a healthy, prosperous Year of the Monkey. CHÚC MỪNG NĂM MỚI!
Thank you very much!