Vietnam, UK tighten strategic partnership

10:01 | 27/09/2019 MUTRAP Corner

(VEN) - Vietnam and the UK have enjoyed diplomatic relations for 46 years and a strategic partnership for nine years, signifying a steady upgrading of bilateral ties. Looking ahead, British Ambassador to Vietnam Gareth Ward told Vietnam Economic News’ Khuu Phung that the UK looks to help Vietnam pursue its Industry 4.0 ambitions.

vietnam uk tighten strategic partnership
Gareth Ward, British Ambassador to Vietnam

What is your overall assessment of Vietnam-UK ties over the last 46 years?

The UK-Vietnam relationship made steady progress during the first decades after the establishment of diplomatic relations in 1973. But since the UK and Vietnam became strategic partners in 2010, progress has accelerated. For example, bilateral trade has increased by 10 percent per year on average. People flows have increased in both directions, with a record 310 thousand Brits visiting Vietnam in 2018, and a record number of nearly 20 thousand visas issued to Vietnamese last year.

Where does UK’s ODA for Vietnam stand?

The UK government has committed to spend 0.7 percent of our national income on Official Development Assistance (ODA) globally. We are very keen to work with countries, including Vietnam, to achieve the UN’s sustainable development goals.

The Department for International Development (DFID) had a presence in Vietnam for many years and contributed significantly to the transformation of the economy. DFID still supports some important programs - I visited Quang Tri Province last year where the UK government continues to help Vietnam with its de-mining efforts. And a new solar-power plant, funded by DFID through InfraCo Asia has just been completed, and is producing clean energy in Ninh Thuan.

In addition, the UK government is now working with Vietnam in a new way, through a wide range of development programs to help Vietnam to modernize and integrate even further. These include the Prosperity Fund, Newton Fund and Fleming Fund - programs that will help Vietnam to pursue its Industry 4.0 ambitions by creating an enabling business environment, harnessing digital healthcare, enhancing the performance of the financial system, improving research and innovation capacity, and the digital transformation of the economy.

Trade and investment is identified as one of seven key pillars in the strategic partnership between the two countries. What are some of the key factors in further strengthening this pillar?

UK-Vietnam bilateral trade has increased 2.5 times since we signed the strategic partnership, and bilateral trade in both goods and services reached almost 5.5 billion in 2018. Vietnam has signed the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and the EU-Vietnam Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA). I believe that the UK and Vietnam will continue to have strong bilateral trade relations even after we leave the EU.

In July 2019, I joined the Vietnamese Finance Minister and many leading companies in London for the largest ever Vietnam investment conference in the UK. There were 200 participants, which shows the high level of interest from the UK. I hope that the Vietnamese government will accelerate reforms in the business environment, and increase the speed of privatization so that more UK companies will do business in Vietnam, and more Vietnamese companies can take advantage of the UK capital markets.

vietnam uk tighten strategic partnership
Vietnam investment conference in London, UK (July 4, 2019)

In the context of Vietnam looking to adapt to and reap the benefits of Industry 4.0, what are the areas in which British companies can help?

The UK has a robust industrial strategy to increase productivity and retain a leading position for research and development. As Vietnam moves towards Industry 4.0, I see UK and Vietnamese policies on innovation and digital will be compatible, with synergies for UK companies and Vietnam companies to work together.

Our Industrial Strategy highlights four grand challenges: artificial intelligence and the data driven economy; clean growth; ageing society; and future mobility. Technology is in the heart of these challenges, and I believe UK-Vietnam cooperation will be strongest in sectors like healthcare, education, infrastructure, financial services and energy.

Bilateral cooperation in education has been growing strongly. Can you enumerate some of its benefits? Will the UK continue to support Vietnam with training programs and scholarships?

Education is an area where the UK is a world leader and where I see a lot of potential for collaboration, especially as science and innovation play an increasing role. With one percent of the world’s population, the UK produces 15 percent of the most frequently cited research papers globally. We have the world best ranking universities and the second largest number of Nobel Prize winners.

I am also pleased that Vietnamese students have options to gain UK degrees, either through studying in the UK, or studying on joint degree courses in Vietnam. More British universities are now choosing to partner with Vietnamese universities to provide students with quality and choice in Vietnam. The UK also has highly qualified professional organizations, like ACCA and ICAEW, which provide internationally recognized skill and qualifications for accountants.

The UK government’s Chevening scheme provides 30 scholarships each year to future leaders in Vietnam, including government officials, entrepreneurs and journalists, so they can study Masters Degrees in the best universities in the UK. From 2019, I am very glad that we are increasing the number of scholarships to 40.

What are some of the initiatives being taken to promote cultural exchanges, people-to-people links between the two countries?

Last year we celebrated 45 years of the UK-Vietnam diplomatic relationship with the largest British Festival ever in Hanoi. The Inspire Me festival took place right in the heart of the city with hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese visitors and support from the Hanoi People’s Committee. We celebrated our relationship through different themes: fashion, education, sports and music. We also had a wide range of activities to raise awareness on illegal wildlife and promote innovation.

Are there any specific plans to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the strategic partnership between the UK and Vietnam next year?

We are planning many exciting activities next year to celebrate 10 years of strategic partnership. Those activities will focus on technology, innovation and education.

What would you say are the implications of Brexit for UK-Vietnam ties?

I believe the UK-Vietnam relationship will continue to grow strongly even after the UK leaving the EU. This will even be more important when Vietnam will chair ASEAN and join the UN Security Council next year.

Khuu Phung