NZ Ambassador: Visit of FM Bui Thanh Son is a moment we have been looking forward to for more than 2 years

WVR - According to New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Tredene Dobson, Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son's official visit to New Zealand is a precious opportunity to take stock of the progress, which the two countries have made since becoming Strategic Partners, and to provide future direction.
New Zealand Ambassador: The visit of FM Bui Thanh Son is a moment we have been looking forward to for more than 2 years
New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Tredene Dobson. (Photo: Thu Trang)

In an interview with the World & Vietnam Report (WVR) on the occasion of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son's official visit to New Zealand from September 13 to 15, New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Tredene Dobson highly appreciated the significance of the visit and shared her expectations, potential development steps of bilateral relations in the future.

Dear Your Excellency, could you touch on the significance of FM Bui Thanh Son’s visit to New Zealand? What are your expectations for this visit?

It is an absolute privilege to welcome Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son to Aotearoa New Zealand. We have been looking forward to this moment for more than two years and while we have made the most of our virtual engagements – there is nothing like being able to talk, as we say in Aotearoa New Zealand, kanohi ki te kanohi (face to face).

The Foreign Minister’s visit is an opportunity to reflect on how far the relationship has come, as it is the first high-level physical visit since both countries upgraded to a Strategic Partnership in July 2020. Our Ministers have had numerous exchanges in the sidelines of regional meetings, but this visit of Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son to Aotearoa New Zealand will be a precious opportunity to take stock of the progress we have made since becoming strategic partners, to provide future direction, and of course to look at where we might be able to collaborate more closely together in regional forums as we seek to address some of the challenges facing our region – not least our efforts to rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic.

I am also pleased that Minister Bui Thanh Son will receive a very special honour when he is formally welcomed on to Parliament grounds with a pōwhiri – a formal Māori welcome which shows the deep respect the people of Aotearoa New Zealand have for the people of Vietnam. I am sure it will be a meaningful and memorable experience for Minister Bui Thanh Son.

New Zealand Ambassador: The visit of FM Bui Thanh Son is a moment we have been looking forward to for more than 2 years
Foreign Minister Bui Thanh Son hold phone talks with his New Zealand counterpart Nanaia Mahuta on October 8, 2021. (Photo: Nguyen Hong)

Could you share some impressions on developments of Vietnam-New Zealand bilateral relations in recent years?

I am proud to say that both countries have worked incredibly hard to ensure the relationship could continue to make great progress over recent years. We have successfully maintained regular high-level virtual political exchanges, trade has continued to grow, our defence and security cooperation has continued and we have expanded education links – seizing the opportunity to provide more online options for students.

Vietnam is New Zealand’s 15th largest trading partner and two-way merchandise trade topped 2.39 billion NZD by year-end June 2022. New Zealand’s exports to Vietnam have seen good growth in a number of sectors, particularly fresh fruit where we have seen around 18 percent growth. It’s been wonderful to see Vietnamese friends enjoying high quality New Zealand produce year round.

And in a sign of just how complementary our two-way trade is Vietnam has grown its machinery exports to New Zealand by more than 30 percent over the last year.

I also want to acknowledge the recent strong momentum in defence and security cooperation between two countries. The effective implementation of the New Zealand-Vietnam Peacekeeping Operations Training and Cooperation Implementing Arrangement, as well as regular high-level defence exchanges in both directions, signal our strengthening defence relations.

We are also working hard to build upon the 2019 arrangement between the Ministry of Public Security of Vietnam and New Zealand Police on countering transnational crimes through regular information exchanges and training programmes on anti-money laundering.

And of course, as a good friend of Vietnam, we are so proud of how the New Zealand Development Programme continues to support Vietnam’s social and economic development goals, especially in agriculture, disaster risk management, and skills and capability building. New Zealand has also invested nearly 2.2 million NZD since June 2020 in support of Vietnam’s COVID-19 pandemic response.

We have worked closely with the Government of Vietnam to support both the health and economic response by providing financial and other assistance to over 9,000 female workers (and their families) across Vietnam, to 130 children with intellectual disabilities, as well as to members of the Vietnamese hearing-impaired community. This is in addition to medical supplies.

One of the real triumphs for Vietnam and New Zealand in terms of collaboration over the last few years has come out of our Development Programme. We have leveraged New Zealand’s expertise in agritech and plant and food research, alongside Vietnam’s very strong agricultural sector, to develop three new dragon-fruit varieties in Vietnam. Our local partners are now in the process of commercialising those new varieties.

These high-quality fruits have been developed with strong disease resistance, increased storage life, and new colour and flavour profiles, promising to satisfy growers and customers in Vietnam and worldwide.

What could Vietnamese enterprises do to gain further access to the New Zealand market, in order to bring two-way trade turnover to 2 billion USD by 2024?

Vietnam and New Zealand have the advantage of sharing three major free trade agreements (CPTPP, AANZFTA and RCEP), as well as working together across regional architecture (APEC, ASEAN, EAS and ASEM), and most recently the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF).

These deep bilateral and regional economic connections will ensure the maintenance of supply chains and reduce barriers to international trade, especially of essential goods including food and medical equipment.

New Zealand is a free and open market, we know it is in our interests to take advantage of the products, skills and expertise offered by our trade partners, especially where they have a competitive advantage. And Vietnam, with its world renowned manufacturing capability, offers exactly that. So I would certainly urge Vietnamese companies to take a good look at the New Zealand market and what our consumers need and then look at how they can take advantage of some of those FTAs.

I would also like to see even more business-to-business collaboration happening, and I will be looking at how we can best support that during my tenure in Vietnam. For example, there are good opportunities for New Zealand and Vietnam to collaborate where we share trade relationships, market access, and trade deals - such as with the European Union (EU).

As Vietnam strives to move further up the global value chain, New Zealand businesses are also well positioned to provide intermediate inputs into Vietnam’s manufacturing capacity. So whether its New Zealand timber that is used to manufacture furniture in Vietnam before being exported to the EU, or just Vietnamese enterprises looking to broaden their markets, exports, and joining new supply chains in the region – our close economic ties, common standards, and our shared vision of free and open economic integration provides a strong platform for growth.

If we collectively begin to realise the enormous potential for New Zealand and Vietnamese businesses to increase business collaboration, strengthen investment, and grow our complementary trade relationship, we will not only meet the target of 2 billion USD (~3.2 billion NZD) two-way trade by 2024, we will exceed it.

New Zealand is among the most favorite destinations of Vietnamese students. Could you share more about the New Zealand Government scholarships and incentives for Vietnamese students?

Education remains a foundation stone in our bilateral relationship, and one that we are delighted to see beginning to blossom again after the disruption caused by COVID-19 pandemic.

The effective implementation of the refreshed Strategic Education Engagement Plan and the vocational training cooperation arrangement demonstrate our firm commitments to continue to progress the broader Vietnam-New Zealand education relationship.

Even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when borders were shut, there were opportunities to innovate. New Zealand education institutions increasingly developed flexible in-Vietnam options such as Joint Programmes and foundation study centres, and there are various ongoing exchanges about on-line learning and curriculum development.

Now with the re-opening of international travel to both New Zealand and Vietnam, the opportunities for Vietnamese students to physically enjoy the world-leading education system of New Zealand are wide open.

I am delighted that every year the New Zealand Government provides 30 post-graduate scholarships for Vietnamese students. We also provide numerous English Language Training for Officials (ELTO) and Short-term Training Scholarships for both the public and private sectors.

These awards target Vietnam’s up-and-coming professionals in climate change response, agriculture, disaster risk management, renewable energy, and good governance.

Since the 1990s, more than 355 young Vietnamese students and 550 officials have studied at New Zealand universities, which are ranked in the top 3 percent globally, and are where critical thinking and creativity are fostered.

Thank you, Ambassador!

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(Source: WVR)