New Zealand eyes closer ties with Vietnam

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A ship loaded with containers sails out of Auckland port in New Zealand

New Zealand seeks to strengthen relations with Vietnam, especially in trade, agriculture, and education, Foreign Minister Murray McCully told Vietweek while on a visit to Vietnam on November 7-8. 

Vietweek: You last visited Vietnam in 2010. What have been the main developments in New Zealand-Vietnam relations since then?

Murray McCully: I think the relationship has been going well since my last visit here. Two-way trade has doubled in three years. We have seen growth in our education relationship. The number of students from Vietnam studying in New Zealand has increased since 2009 but this number can increase a lot more. My talks with Vietnam's Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh focused very much on how we can be more ambitious in the bilateral relationship to help grow our bilateral relations.

The foreign minister and I agreed to work towards doubling the amount of trade but there are a few things we need to make it possible. We're already partners in the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement (AANZFTA), but the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is the big game in town.

New Zealand will be hosting the next round of the TPP talks next month. We are very positive about TPP providing a framework within which we can grow our trade and economic relations.

We will start our process of looking to modernize the bilateral air service agreement that was put in place in 2003. We think a direct air link between the two countries will help boost bilateral relations. And things will really take off from that point.

What are the areas of cooperation with Vietnam that New Zealand is interested in?

I think in terms of the regional partnership we have with Vietnam, we are working increasingly closely together in areas like defense cooperation, maritime-disaster management, and disaster-relief management generally.

In the diplomatic and political areas, the ties are now very close. We try to bring value to our participation in ASEAN meetings, the East Asia Summit, and the ASEAN Regional Forum. To do that we rely very heavily on a strong, constructive, and professional relationship that we have with the leaders here in Vietnam.

I think we want to see education grow. We could see the trade in goods and services take a huge leap forward if we are able to see a direct air link at some point in the next few years that we are working very hard to achieve.

We are the world's best agricultural producers in my view. We set high standards, so it is not just on-farm production and innovative processing, but also high standards in terms of food safety and biosecurity. So that is what we are best known for and that is what we best like to bring to partnerships we have with other countries. We try to ensure a good partnership which involves exporting our dairy produce in return for bringing in, for example, consumer goods from countries like Vietnam or other ASEAN countries.

There is only a small number of New Zealand firms investing in Vietnam with limited trade. Why?

I think there are a number of reasons for this. The first is that we do not have direct air links. That is a big limitation on the sort of trade and economic relationship we would like to have.

I think New Zeland business people have focused a great deal of their energy on China in the last four years. That is because we have had an FTA with China for over four years now whereas the AANZFTA is much newer it is something that kicked into life in early 2012. And in New Zealand since that time we have done a lot of promotion work to get people to understand that. By establishing this agreement we become a part of a market of over 600 million people with some of the most dynamic economies in the world. I think as I say the trade architecture has created an opportunity that we now need to make sure people understand.

What are New Zealand's main strengths in international education?

International education is a significant sector of our economy. We wanted to recognize this by having a government agency that will improve our marketing and ensure that all of our players in that sector, the various providers, are working in harmony.

New Zealand is a good place for students to study English and it is great that I could come here and meet up with senior officials who say "I am a member of the Kiwi Mafia" a group of over 400 people who have studied English in New Zealand.

A wide range of subjects are available but for those who are interested in agriculture, agricultural science, we think it is the best in the world. For those who want to have a legal education and the Foreign Minister and I talked about a market for legal skills here we have a very good legal education system in New Zealand. I am a product of that myself. One of the areas that has expanded a great deal in the last two years or so has been geothermal engineering, which is not necessarily a priority for Vietnam, but for countries like Indonesia, the Philippines, and, of course, Japan, geothermal renewable energy is a real priority. We are happy to have some of the world's best geothermal expertise in New Zealand. So it is not just a narrow range but it is a broad range of skills that we offer.

What concrete measures has New Zealand taken to strengthen cooperation with Vietnam?

We need to make sure that all of the government agencies in New Zealand are doing their roles to communicate here in Vietnam, starting with the ambassador who is supposed to be the chief marketing manager here in Vietnam. We are an important partner in the TPP negotiation. I appointed a new ambassador here just a few weeks ago, who is a bright trade specialist and part of the TPP team.

The New Zealand embassy in Hanoi has just launched a Facebook page. It is part of an initiative to try and lift our tempo of communication and our presence here in Hanoi.

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