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Vietnam – Kuwait: Moving toward a strategic partnership in oil and gas sector and beyond
October 28, 2017, 4:07 pm
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Middle-East region is a new turf for me, but I am confident that during my tenure here I will get to know this dynamic region, its language and wonderful people, said His Excellency Trinh Minh Manh, Ambassador of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to Kuwait.

The ambassador who was speaking exclusively to The Times, in his first-ever media interview in Kuwait, expressed his great pleasure to be in the country and felt honored to have Kuwait as his first ambassadorial posting.

Having arrived in Kuwait just two weeks back with his wife and twin young daughters, the ambassador has been captivated by what he has seen so far. “While two weeks is a short time to form any opinion, I am very impressed by learning about Kuwait’s diplomatic influence and humanitarian efforts on the global arena. I am also fascinated by the tranquility of the country; it is a far-cry from the hustle-bustle and noise of Hanoi, or other Vietnamese cities.”

A young and energetic career diplomat, Ambassador Manh entered his country’s foreign service soon after graduation in 2000, and was posted to the Translation and Interpretation Department. His good command over English led to him working as the official interpreter for high-level Vietnamese officials during their visits abroad, and during visits by foreign dignitaries to Vietnam.

In 2005, he moved to the Foreign Policy Planning Department and two years later was assigned to the country’s embassy in Washington DC. The next three and a half years were spent in the United States, during which time he had the privilege to engage with high-ranking US officials and congressmen and to grow as a diplomat. He returned to Vietnam in 2011 and spent the next six years in various foreign-affairs departments, including in the ASEAN Department. In 2017, he was appointed as ambassador to Kuwait.

“Vietnam and Kuwait enjoy very good relations that date back to 1976, when Kuwait became the first country from the Middle-East to establish diplomatic relations with a reunified Vietnam. The Embassy of Vietnam opened in Kuwait in 2003 and since then high-level bilateral visits have helped cement cordial relations between the two nations,” said the ambassador.

“In 2007, the then Prime Minister of Kuwait, His Highness Sheikh Nasser Al-Mohammed Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah paid a visit to Vietnam and this was reciprocated in 2009 by a visit to Kuwait by a high-level Vietnamese delegation headed by then Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung. The visit in 2007 by Sheikh Nasser led to the opening of Kuwait’s embassy in Hanoi and a consulate-general in Ho Chi Minh City in August and September of 2007.

“Over the years, the two sides have continued to intensify the exchange of bilateral visits at all levels to solidify cooperation between the two countries and peoples. Last year, the Prime Minister of Kuwait His Highness Sheikh Jaber Mubarak Al- Hamad Al-Sabah’s visit to Vietnam helped foster further friendship and bilateral cooperation. During my tenure here, I hope to strengthen the already strong relations between our two countries and we are looking forward to more high-level bilateral visits in the immediate future,” said Ambassador Manh.

On the investment front, the envoy noted, “Kuwait is already the largest investor from the Middle-East in Vietnamese economy. We have benefitted from substantial preferential loans for infrastructure developments from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. In addition, in 2008, Kuwait Petroleum International (KPI), a subsidiary of state-owned Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), signed a deal with PetroVietnam, our national oil and gas company, to establish the Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical Complex, the largest refinery project in Vietnam.

“Kuwait has 35 percent share in the nearly US$10 billion project and is committed to a long-term supply of crude oil for the refinery. With a refining capacity of 200,000 barrels per day, the Nghi Son Refinery is one of the largest investment projects in Vietnam and commissioning work is currently going on, with the first shipment of crude oil from Kuwait arriving at the refinery this August. An official grand opening of the refinery complex is planned for the first-quarter of 2018,” revealed the envoy.

“The successful multinational cooperation between Vietnam, Kuwait and the two other Japanese partners in the project has meant that, even before inauguration of the project, plans have been finalized for the second phase that includes a petrochemical complex. Meanwhile, Idemitsu Q8, a joint venture between the two partners in the refinery project, KPI and Idemitsu Kosan of Japan, has opened their first fuel-service station in Vietnam in early October. KPI is also exploring other oil and gas projects in Vietnam including wholesale marketing and direct sales of petrol and its byproducts to businesses.

“Vietnam and Kuwait are becoming strategic partners in the oil and gas sector, with the Nghi Son Refinery Project as a flagship and much more potential for long-term and mutually beneficial cooperation. For Kuwait, the project is an outlet for sale of its crude oil, as well as launch pad for its hydrocarbon products into the large and lucrative ASEAN market; for Vietnam, the refinery ensures a sustained supply of gas and other petroleum products for its domestic market and even export.

“Besides investment, trade is another area that could be enhanced between the two countries. I believe that the only thing impeding increased trade is a dearth of knowledge in the local market about the potential for trade with Vietnam. Currently Vietnam is the largest ASEAN exporter to Kuwait with over $500 million worth of Vietnamese goods finding their way to the Kuwait market, mainly in the form of agriculture products, leather goods and, to a lesser extent, textiles. Considering that we are a major exporter of textiles to the US market, I think there is huge possibility to increase trade in this particular field. Also, in the agriculture sector, post-harvest processing of food is an area that welcomes foreign investments.

“In addition, the hospitality sector, which is growing exponentially across Vietnam could attract significant private investments from Kuwait. Large scale projects such as holiday resorts, luxury hotels, golf courses, shopping malls and marinas, are just some of the many venues that offer relatively quick and lucrative returns for investors. Also, in the tourism sector, with more than 3,000 km of enticing coastline, Vietnam offers ample opportunities for marine leisure sports, travel and hospitality infrastructure investments.

“Though the amazing tourist attractions in Vietnam have been attracting visitors from around the world, the numbers from this region are not that many. Again the main hurdle is a lack of awareness about the touristic attractions of Vietnam among Kuwaitis, and knowledge about food, shopping, relaxing and entertainment preferences of travelers from this region, among the travel and hospitality industry in Vietnam.

“Travel from Kuwait to Vietnam is relatively easy and efficient with just a stopover in Dubai or Doha, and visa is available for Kuwaitis within a day or two, so the main obstacle to increasing tourists from this area is the lack of awareness. Over the coming months the embassy and I intend to work on rectifying this knowledge gap, both on investment opportunities and tourism attractions in Vietnam, by holding a number of roadshows and exhibitions, as well as through media advertisements in Kuwait.

“Human resources is another sector where Vietnam and Kuwait could work together and I look forward to pursuing this matter in greater detail. The relatively small number of Vietnamese nationals currently in Kuwait, working mainly in the oil and construction industry, is not indicative of our country’s potential to provide skilled laborers, as well as qualified personnel to work in various sectors of Kuwait. 

“We are proud that relations between Vietnam and Kuwait are built on the foundation of friendship, mutual respect and understanding, as well as a strong solidarity between the peoples of the two countries. I am sure this relationship will continue to grow and gain more strength in the years to come, under the wise leadership of both nations,” concluded the ambassador.

 

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