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Vietnam - Economic powerhouse of Southeast Asia
November 9, 2014, 9:23 am
H.E. Nguyen Hong Thao

Please tell us a little bit about your professional career?

I was born in 1957 in the northern province of Phu Tho, which is considered as the cradle of Vietnamese nation. In 1974, I enrolled myself in the Navy College of Bacu (former-Soviet Union) and studied international law at the University of Paris I Panteon-Sorbonne where I received a Ph.D. in 1996. After returning home, I have been both researching and practicing law from various positions. I teach international law at the National University of Hanoi and the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam as well as serving the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in some negotiations on border issues. 

Before being appointed as Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Viet Nam to Kuwait, I was Ambassador of Viet Nam to Malaysia (2011-2014).
How would you describe the economy of Vietnam and its growth potentials?

After nearly 30 years of Renovation, Viet Nam has made significant achievements in economic development. In the past few years, especially after the global financial and economic crisis 2008-2009, thanks to the Vietnamese Government’s close guidance and efforts, Vietnam’s economy continues to recover and achieve relatively positive economic results: GDP reached more than US$170 billion in 2013; in the first 8 months of 2014, FDI reached US$10.23 billion and GDP grew by 5.5 percent.

Notably, in term of trade, in 2013, Viet Nam’s total trade volume reached US$228.2 billion, of which export volume was US$114.5 billion (major export items were seafood, garment and textiles, shoes and bags, wood furniture, oil, rice, coffee, mobile phone…) and import volume was US$113.7 billion (major import items were animal feeds: petroleum; plastic material; fabrics; steel; electronics; machinery, tools and accessories; consumer products…).

We can see that, while Viet Nam is one of the leading producers of the world in some agricultural products such as, rice, coffee, pepper, cashew…, more and more high-quality industrial products made in Viet Nam are also being exported to other parts of the world.

Viet Nam now is an active member of many international and regional economic organizations and forums/dialogues. At present, Viet Nam is  a partner of the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) dialogue - a trade pack grouping 12 Asia-Pacific countries (Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, USA and Viet Nam) which is also one of largest trade area with combined population of  792 million, contributes 40 percent of world GDP and 1/3 of world trade.

What are some of the investment opportunities in Viet Nam?

Since 2007, Viet Nam has been one of the 15 most attractive economies for foreign investors in aspects, such as: the speed of market development; penetration of the regional market; cheap labor and investment incentives.

Vietnamese Government always welcomes foreign investors and provides them with favorable condition in infrastructure, laws and policies... Notably, the 1987 Foreign Direct Investment Law (amended and supplemented) has created a more open and attractive environment to draw foreign investors into crucial industries such as export-oriented processing and manufacture, and key economic zones of the country; Law on Personal Income Tax Law (amended and supplemented) has also created more incentives for foreign tax payers…. The one-stop-shop policy has been promoted, telecommunication tariffs lowered to gain competitiveness over other countries in the region. Infrastructure has also been improved considerably. More areas, including those previously closed to foreign investors, such as telecommunication, insurance and supermarkets, etc. are now open for investment.

In the first 8 months of 2014, FDI flow into Vietnam has reached US$10.23 billion. The top investors are South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong, Chinese Taipei, US, EU….

Especially, in 2014, H.E. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a list of 127 national projects calling for foreign investment from now to 2020. These projects are categorized into five areas: technical infrastructure, social infrastructure, agriculture, processing and preserving and production-service sectors. The project can be carried by PPP, BOT, BT… or 100 percent private capital-owned.

Obviously, there are still many opportunities to cooperate for entrepreneurs and investors of the two countries. Viet Nam welcomes and encourages Kuwaiti investors to do business in Viet Nam, especially in the fields of infrastructure, construction, agriculture, finance, banking and energy.

What is the level of cooperation with Kuwait in the field of oil refining and exploration?

Regarding the petroleum industrial cooperation, we are now cooperating in both the upstream and the downstream sectors.
Currently, Petro Vietnam and Kuwait Foreign Petroleum Exploration Company (KUFPEC) are partners in some exploration projects located offshore Vietnam and Malaysia.

We are pleased to see that the most prominent spot in investment cooperation between Viet Nam and Kuwait is the formation of Nghi Son Oil Refinery and Petrochemical Project in Thanh Hoa Province, central Viet Nam - one of the largest investment projects in Viet Nam, with a capital of US$9 billion which was signed between PetroVietnam, Kuwait Petroleum International Company (KPI) and two Japanese partners Idemitsu Kosan Corp (IKC) and Mitsui Chemicals Inc (MCI)), in which KPI hold stakes of 35.1 percent and has committed to supply 100 percent crude oil for the plant in the long term. Construction is expected to be completed in the fourth quarter of 2016, and commercial operations are expected to commence in mid-2017 with a refining capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, equivalent to 10 million tons per year.

Tell us about tourism in Viet Nam and the number of travelers from Kuwait?

Viet Nam’s diverse natural environment, geography, history, and culture have created a great potential for the tourism industry. Viet Nam consists of long coastlines, forests, and mountainous regions with numerous magnificent landscapes. As well, Viet Nam has a long 4000 year - history and diversified culture with variety of ancient architecture constructions, and wonderful legends. In 2013, Vietnam’s tourism sector saw a spectacular growth as we received more than 7.5 million international tourists and 35 million domestic tourists, and the total revenue from the tourism sector was 200 trillion VND (nearly US$9.8 billion).

Currently, international and domestic tourism corporations/companies have invested in international luxury hotels and resorts in different parts of Viet Nam. We have been developing various types of premium travel, such as medical tourism, adventure tourism, eco-tourism, while building more international standard shopping complex, trade centers... that meet the needs of international tourists from the Middle East, including Kuwait.

Last year, Viet Nam received about 400 Kuwaiti tourists. We expect that, the number of Kuwaiti tourists coming to Viet Nam will be 700 by 2014 and increase more in the coming years.

How many Vietnamese nationals are there in Kuwait?

We have a quite small and young community in Kuwait, approximately 400 people. Most of them are laborers working in infrastructure construction projects; some others are doctors, lecturers, technicians and businessmen. Few Vietnamese families have been living and working here for 10 years. It is noted that, the number of students receiving scholarships to study at Kuwait University and high-quality technicians and engineers working in petroleum companies in Kuwait are increasing recently.

Most of Vietnamese people always respect the local tradition, culture, law and regulations. They keep close connection with their home country and play an important role in bridging and strengthening the mutual understanding and friendship between our two peoples and countries.

Are there any plans for cultural or sports exchanges between Vietnam and Kuwait?

It is true that, sports, art and cultural exchanges between the two sides have not been commensurate with the development of bilateral political and economic cooperation relations in the past years. Therefore, we plan to boost cooperation in this field by participating in, or organizing, arts and cultural exhibitions/performance; exchange of cultural scholarships and youth sports delegations, etc…in the coming time. I hope that these activities will be welcomed and supported by the Kuwaiti Government and peoples and will help bring our two nations and peoples closer.

 We are proud that our bilateral relationship is built on the foundation of friendship, mutual respect and understanding and strong solidarity of the two Governments and Peoples. I do hope that you all continue to join us in activities aimed at boosting the Viet Nam – Kuwait relationship faster and stronger and commensurate with the potentials of the two countries.

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