Ambassador Karl Van Den Bossche: Together, Belgium and Vietnam make Europeans run!

WVR - Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh will attend the ASEAN-EU 45th Anniversary Commemorative Summit and pay official visits to Belgium, On this occasion, Belgian Ambassador to Vietnam Karl Van Den Bossche shared his view on cooperation potentials between two nations.
Ambassador Karl Van Den Bossche: Together, Belgium and Vietnam make the Europeans run!
Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh (R) welcomes Belgian Ambassador to Vietnam Karl Van Den Bossche November 11. (Photo: VNA)

Could you please share with us your expectations of the official visit of Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh to Belgium?

The EU-ASEAN summit provides for the vital connection between the 2 blocs but can only thrive thanks to the exceptional bilateral relationships that exist between each member state. The official visit of Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh provide testifies of the warm relationship between our 2 nations.

What are your assessments about the potentials of economic cooperation between the two countries in the coming time, towards recovery and sustainable development?

The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement has yet been operational for a few years only, but shows the mutual trade flows are benefiting from it. However we also see a structural trade deficit of Belgium with Vietnam: 1,8 billion EUR in 2021 and 938 million EUR for the first 8 months in 2022. While the trade volumes are up, they seem to flow in one direction.

Ambassador Karl Van Den Bossche: Together, Belgium and Vietnam make the Europeans run!
Belgian Ambassador to Vietnam Karl Van Den Bossche. (Photo: Minh Tu)

Given the function of Belgium as Gateway to Europe, this is not a surprise. Did you know that Nike has its main European distribution warehouse near Antwerp in Flanders? And that Vietnam exports mostly footwear to Belgium? Together, Belgium and Vietnam make the Europeans run!

In 2021, Vietnam was the 15 biggest non-EU importer in Belgium. That’s a very high ranking. Those exchanges show there is a structural link between our 2 countries, which can benefit from further growth – also for Belgian companies in Vietnam. Limitations and restrictions need to be lifted and therefore we applaud the recent entry into force of the circular 8 for pharmaceuticals, recognizing the EU regulatory framework. We also hope Vietnam can extend the validity of marketing authorizations for the pharmaceutical sector.

On the regulatory side, we are very aware of the Vietnamese concerns in the field of the EU Yellow Card for fisheries. Sustainable fisheries are essential also for Vietnam, and public health is a predominant factor for imports into the EU. While this is an exclusive competence of the European Commission, Belgium also monitors the efforts Vietnam is deploying. We will actively participate in the deliberations in Brussels on this topic.

We want to cooperate in a smart way, to enhance the further development of Vietnam. It means we listen carefully to the needs of the government in the field of agriculture, logistics, climate change, cleantech, healthcare and others.

Belgium has been Vietnam's strategic partner in the agricultural sector. In the post-pandemic context, how could the two countries promote in this area?

We have agreed to further deepen our existing Strategic Partnership Agreement in Agriculture, that will soon turn 5 years. Now is the time to enhance our cooperation and provide Vietnam with the necessary technology and know-how, to increase agro-industrial production, processing, cooling, transportation and shipping to foreign destinations.

The biggest common challenge we face is the fight against climate change. We clearly hear the appeal of the Vietnamese government for technology transfer and investments in clean- and greentech. Belgium answers the call but also hopes that the laudable ambitions to become carbon neutral in 2050 can be translated in concrete investments.

A few projects that could promote in this area are: a pilot project of cool cabins in the Mekong Delta turns out to be a major success and will be scaled up in Can Tho. Flemish agro-industry and logistics have top-notch know-how. Our dredging companies provide for the necessary port infrastructure and DEEP C has created the biggest eco-industrial zone in North-Vietnam, generating 5 billion USD of investments.

Walloon companies are at the front of bio-engineering. The Brussels based global leader Solvay provides innovative solutions for conservation of fruits and vegetables, and for the clean and healthy production of shrimp in the Mekong Delta. Puratos Grand Place is the biggest B2B chocolate producer in Vietnam, taking 70% (!) of the entire Vietnamese cacao production and turning it into delicious chocolate for the Vietnamese bakeries and patisseries. Meanwhile, they foster a fair and sustainable development of the cacao farmers. The Belgian NGO Rikolto supports a decent living for 4000 cacao farmers.

The ultimate goal is to provide better Vietnamese produce and products with higher value that can be exported to the markets of Europa, USA and elsewhere.

But we also support the Vietnamese energy grid, through the know-how of Brussels-based Elia Grid International and its longstanding cooperation with EVN. DEME develops the first offshore wind energy project of Vietnam, in the South. Together, these companies will provide solutions for the future energy needs of Vietnam.

The Belgian pharmaceutical sector is one of the biggest in Europe and provides essential medicines and is willing to further invest in Vietnam. As you can see, there are numerous examples that go beyond the pure agro-industrial sector and help to support the goal to become a higher middle-income country in the next years. I sincerely wish it well!

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