Vietnam – Sweden: Equal Partnership Based on Mutual Interests

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Looking back, Sweden and Vietnam can celebrate 45 years of diplomatic relations which have nurtured and laid a strong foundation for an outstanding relationship. Official diplomatic relations between Sweden and Vietnam were established in 1969. In fact, Sweden was the first Western country to acknowledge and recognise Vietnam when the country was still at war. To get to know more about the cooperation, especially within the commercial sector, Vietnam Business Forum interviewed Ambassador of Sweden Camilla Mellander. Duc Binh reports.Would you please tell us some achievements of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and Sweden over the past 45 years?

Sweden has been a strong supporter of Vietnam’s development. We were the second largest ODA donor in the 70’s, the largest in the 80’s and the fourth largest in the 90’s. Bai Bang Paper Mill, National Hospital of Paediatrics in Hanoi and Uong Bi Hospital have been important symbols of our friendship and joint achievements. In addition, success stories are also found in the following areas: support to the Doi Moi (renovation), health, poverty reduction, media training, environment and climate change, justice reform and fight against corruption. Countless experts, doctors, engineers, government officials and young scholars travelled between our countries for visit, study or work, leading to an increased capacity and knowledge in both nations. Over the years, Sweden provided more than US$3 billion for Vietnam in development assistance. In 2012, Sida commissioned an independent evaluation of over 4 decades of the development cooperation with Vietnam. It concluded that Swedish development cooperation has improved the health and education and overall development levels of millions of Vietnamese citizens – a major achievement.

We are now entering a new phase of bilateral relationship: maturing from a development assistance to an equal partnership based on mutual interests. With Sweden being always received as a trusted friend, I am pleased to note that cooperation between the two countries has been established in most fields, including politics, economics, trade, investment, culture and education at various levels, ranging from central to local, from governmental, parliamentary to ministerial, business to business and people to people exchange.

As you have rightly mentioned, 2014 marks the 45th anniversary of Sweden –Vietnam diplomatic relations. This has been celebrated throughout the year with at least one event every month, not only on business related topics, but also on culture, music, film, design, food and education possibilities to be offered to the Vietnamese audience. Our big flagship was the Innovative Sweden exhibition and its 18 sideline events held in Ho Chi Minh City during the month of November. Tens of thousands of Vietnamese and Swedish business representatives and stakeholders were present during the events and we are very glad to say that many new contacts were initiated during this time. I believe the key is to build on these new relations, during the year of 2015 and beyond.

For 2015, what should Vietnam and Sweden do to foster relations, especially in trade?

I see huge potential for future cooperation, especially within the commercial sector and through bilateral trade. Sweden is ranked as the fifth most competitive economy in the world and we have built a lot of that wealth based on knowledge and innovations.

The Swedish government’s goal is promote free trade internationally and to increase trade with Vietnam. The last 12 months have witnessed several high level visits from Stockholm to Hanoi, particularly the visit headed by Gunnar Oom, State Secretary for Trade, that was a great success when he came with Swedish companies wanting to trade or expand business with Vietnamese partners.

We think that by boosting trade ties with Vietnam, we transfer technology and exchange business solutions that will promote a culture of creativity and inspire Vietnamese innovations. Important sectors identified are urban transport, health care, clean tech and ICT. The cooperation and sharing of ideas within these sectors have an enormous potential. As an example, we can help Vietnamese companies in thinking green which is a big comparative advantage, especially if you turn to the European market. In general, the European buyers and consumers prefer products that are produced in a manner, which takes the environment and working conditions of the labourers into consideration. Swedish companies promote these values and have the ability to work together with Vietnamese firms in implementing them in the Vietnamese market as well.

The two-way trade volumes between our countries have expanded and reached US$1 billion for the first time last year and it is on a growth trend. Vietnam’s exports to Sweden include garments, footwear, agricultural products, but also increasingly electronic products and bicycles. Vietnam’s imports from Sweden mainly consist of machinery, equipment used in the construction, transport, wood furniture and mechanical manufacturing. The Swedish Embassy, together with Business Sweden, is actively supporting Swedish companies that are already here or wish to enter the market. We will keep on working closely with trade promotion agencies on the Vietnamese side.

The exchange of business delegations, participation in trade fairs in Vietnam and Sweden, and concerted efforts on match-making from both sides will be continued in the future, bringing businesses and companies from our two countries together.

What should Vietnam do to attract more investors from Sweden?

Sweden now has over 60 companies registered or established in Vietnam. Many of them are have operated effectively for years in the local market, namely ABB, AtlasCopco, AstraZeneca, Electrolux, Ericsson, IKEA, SKF and TetraPak. These companies have made important contribution to the socio-economic development of Vietnam through their innovations, knowledge and technology transfer and job creation. For instance, IKEA is one of Vietnam’s biggest employment generating companies, with more than 300,000 Vietnamese people earning an income by producing for IKEA.

Innovation and economic growth are interlinked. Vietnam aims to increase its innovative capacity and climb the global value chain, while Sweden is currently recognized as one of the world’s most innovative countries. Sweden has a lot of offer on green technology and sustainable solutions, in line with Vietnam’s strategy for green growth and sustainability. We also have an impressive track record as a leading supplier of innovative solutions and products in a wide range of industry sectors on a global scale. High-tech sectors such as IT, telecommunication, transportation and medical equipment continue to win international recognition and Swedish innovations have taken the lead in emerging fields such as sustainable transport, environmental technology and renewable energy.

When it comes to attracting more Swedish investment, we have also seen an increased interest from Swedish enterprises wanting to invest or do business here, reflected by numerous successful Swedish business delegations to Vietnam in the last year. The key for Vietnam to move up in the world’s competitiveness and innovation indexes is to shift from labour intensive projects to attract high quality investment inflows. The focus should be on FDI projects that use advanced and environmentally friendly technologies, and use natural resources in a sustainable way. It should target projects with high technology and competitive products that could be part of the global production network and value chain.

I believe Vietnam is doing it pretty well, attracting more than 20 billion USD in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2013, a year-on-year increase of 65 percent. I would like to complement the measures introduced by the Vietnamese government. However, I also want to underline the importance to continue to fight corruption and increase transparency. Corruption is a roadblock to Swedish and international companies wanting to invest or expand business in Vietnam.

How would you assess Vietnam’s efforts in negotiation of trade agreements in the context of globalisation?

In the past, Vietnam was quite an isolated country. The country’s history turned to a complete new chapter when the country decided to open its doors to the world, introduced Doi Moi and started engaging in the world’s economy.

In today’s context, Vietnam is a middle-income country with abundant and young workforce. By pursuing economic renovation and engaging the global economy, Vietnam has emerged as a strong regional player and an exciting market with 90 million people. I have observed with keen interest the positive impacts made by effective reforms carried out during the past decades. Vietnam’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) was a further step towards higher growth, further development of the country and new job creation.

Another important factor in fostering trade relations will be the concluding of the Free Trade Agreement between Vietnam and the European Union. With the ambition of negotiating a comprehensive agreement that includes not only market opening commitments, but also other related commitments on investment, environment, competition, sustainable development, etc., we hope the discussions will reach their final stages in 2015. The FTA, once concluded, will boost comparative advantages and have great impacts on the whole Vietnamese economy.

The EU, a huge market with 28 members, is already Vietnam’s second largest export market and the trade flows will continue to increase positively for Vietnam’s key exports such as garment, textile and footwear, but would be also expanded to other sectors once the FTA is in place. Examples from other countries like South Korea, which has concluded an FTA with the EU, showed that trade volume has substantially increased.

We hope to continue sharing our practical experiences and innovations with Vietnam, for Vietnam’s continued growth and for a new height of Sweden-Vietnam bilateral relationships.

Đăng ký: VietNam News