Vietnam and Australia are working closely to implement the Australia - Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy (EEES), with many initiatives already underway or completed. What opportunities will it bring for bilateral economic activities between the two countries?
We are very proud of the Australia - Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy (EEES), which is agreed upon at the prime ministerial level. It really represents our ambition to do more with Vietnam. The leaders said they wanted to raise our economic engagement to where we are both in the top 10 trading partners of each other. I think we have already reached that with Vietnam, as we are its tenth-largest trading partner, and Vietnam is Australia’s tenth-largest export destination, but bilateral trade is slipping out of the top 10 so we need to go a little bit higher. But it’s okay, we have time and we are going in the right direction.
In terms of investment, we need to do better because where we are at is much too low. Vietnam’s investment in Australia is increasing fast but at a low level. My personal view is that Vietnam needs to promote more labor-intensive, manufacturing-intensive, and digital-intensive investment, then there will be more opportunities to work with Australia. Another important aspect is that we have agreed to strengthen the rules-based multilateral trading system and implement free trade agreements (FTAs) such as the ASEAN - Australia - New Zealand FTA (AANZFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
We also have the Business Champions, who have been visiting Vietnam and doing a lot of work. We also cooperate in digital transformation, especially e-government, the digital economy, cyber security, and critical technology, with a number of ministries in Vietnam. And we even have the Australia - Vietnam Enhanced Economic Engagement Grant Pilot Program (AVEG), which includes the Australian Government committing A$2.5 million ($1.61 million) across 28 grant projects awarded to Australian organizations in 2021-2022 to enhance bilateral trade and economic engagement between the two countries.
And the two also continue to expand mutually-beneficial cooperation in education, skills, and training, including through the Australia-Vietnam University Leaders Dialogue, support for the Vietnam Australia Center, the establishment of the Australia Vietnam Policy Institute, and support through the Aus4Skills program. All of these mechanisms will give us the opportunity to do more with Vietnam in economic cooperation.
What sectors will be focused on for investment and development within the framework of the EEES?
In order to support Australian and Vietnamese businesses, the EEES outlines a series of mutually-beneficial, practical initiatives to deepen trade and investment links in key sectors, including agriculture, manufacturing, tourism, education, energy, services, technology, and the digital economy. The obvious one is the agriculture sector, and we have a team at the Australian Embassy that is looking at agro-tech and how to transfer some new farming techniques to Vietnam. For example, we are working in the Mekong Delta on low-carbon sustainable production, where we are identifying new crop varieties that work better in the increasingly saline environment.
I would say energy services are also very big, because Vietnam and Australia are both transitioning to green energy economies and that is going to require a lot of work. Education is also an important sector for us. For example, RMIT is expanding with other universities that are interested in doing more with Vietnam. And the digital economy is a very big focus of Vietnamese Government innovation and is something that we want to help them with. From our point of view, the important thing for Vietnam is to continue opening up and creating a good environment for investment and be open to foreign engagement.
What are your views on the roles of the Australian and Vietnamese Business Champions in the EEES?
The Business Champions Initiative is a priority activity under the EEES. I think that although Vietnam and Australia know each other very well, sometimes our images are a little bit outdated. Therefore, we want the Australian Business Champions to promote what is happening in Vietnam today in Australia and the opportunities that exist.
We would also like the Vietnamese Business Champions to explain to Vietnamese investors that Australia is not as it was ten years ago. It is now a high-tech country and very interesting for Vietnamese investors. Another important aspect is to encourage the governments to do better in terms of making opportunities available for businesspeople, such as creating an enabling environment for business. All of these things are part of what the Business Champions are doing.
What should the Business Champions do to further promote cooperation between the two countries and contribute to the EEES?
As I mentioned, boosting cooperation is important in promoting markets in both directions and creating connections for businesses. It is important for businesses to connect with each other to establish relationships and give them the confidence to invest and share their experience and talk about how different companies overcame challenges so that others can learn from that. That is really important.
And they are going to come up with policy recommendations for ministers, and it will be very interesting to see what they recommend the governments try to make things easier for the business community. And we had one of our ministers, the Hon. Tim Ayres, Assistant Minister for Trade and Assistant Minister for Manufacturing, visiting Vietnam recently. He met with the Prime Minister and spent some time with Australian and Vietnamese Business Champions. So I think this will create more confidence and more recommendations for implementing activities in the future.
The strategy aims to see Vietnam and Australia become top 10 trade partners of each other. What should the Vietnamese Government do to reach this goal?
The Vietnamese Government should continue doing what it is doing now, which is reforming to make things easier for business. I think that, in the past, it was quite difficult to do business in Vietnam because there was a lot of approval requirements, a lot of bureaucracy, and a lot of government engagement. That is getting better, but it has to continue to get better because Vietnam is competing with Singapore, Thailand, and the Philippines.
Businesspeople are looking at the whole region to see where it is easier to do business, and Vietnam has to be No. 1. I think the government knows that and is continuing to move in that direction. We are also going to have our annual economic partnership meeting, where our economic ministers get together, and I think they will be looking at recommendations from the Business Champions and I hope that they take those recommendations seriously and implement them.