Interview: Nguyen Xuan Phuc

How could the bilateral relationship between Vietnam and Myanmar be strengthened?

NGUYEN XUAN PHUC: In line with the main pillars of the Myanmar-Vietnam comprehensive cooperative partnership, bilateral economic ties have been growing strongly. Two-way trade reached $548.3m in 2016, exceeding the target of $500m set by the two governments. Both sides are striving to raise the figure to $1bn. Vietnam has become Myanmar’s ninth-largest trading partner and seventh-largest foreign investor.

To further promote bilateral trade, there are a number of key areas we need to pay attention to, and measures we need to implement immediately. First, to leverage the fact that Myanmar is a newly opened market, we need to adopt measures that simultaneously promote trade and investment. We see tremendous investment potential in areas such as energy, telecommunications and infrastructure.

Second, both countries need to implement and further promote existing cooperation mechanisms, such as the Joint Committee on Bilateral Cooperation and the Joint Sub-Committee on Trade, to address any disputes or operational obstacles. Relevant ministries and agencies also need to focus on implementing a range of bilateral agreements, including the agreement on cooperation and mutual support in Customs between Vietnam’s Ministry of Finance and Myanmar’s Ministry of Finance and Planning, as well as the memorandum of understanding on cooperation in trade.

Lastly, as members of ASEAN working together towards the realisation of the ASEAN Economic Community, the two countries need to remove all obstacles in the trading of goods and services to create a springboard for bilateral economic, trade and investment ties to thrive in the years to come. At the same time, they need to pay greater attention to coordination in regional and subregional cooperation forums, such as the Greater Mekong Subregion Economic Cooperation Programme and the East-West Economic Corridor.

Which sectors are most likely to provide investment opportunities for Vietnamese firms?

NGUYEN XUAN PHUC: The 2010 joint statement underlined that Myanmar would encourage and support Vietnamese enterprises looking to invest in agriculture, industrial parks, transport infrastructure, hotels, mining and offshore gas projects. By the end of October 2017 there were 70 Vietnamese projects that had been licensed for overseas investment in Myanmar. These projects, which totalled $1.4bn, include the telecommunications and ICT project by Viettel Group ($860m); the hotel, office and shopping mall complex by Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group ($300m); the oil and gas project in Block M2 by PetroVietnam Exploration Production Corporation, an affiliate of PetroVietnam ($114.7m); the finance and banking project by the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam ($85m); and the construction bricks joint venture by Viet Tin ($5m). Meanwhile, other projects have taken place in the services sector, namely engineering, consultancy, interior design, transport, logistics, tourism and trade.

To what extent can collaboration between Myanmar and Vietnam maintain stability and open commercial sea lanes in the South and East China Seas?

NGUYEN XUAN PHUC: Vietnam and Myanmar are both coastal countries, members of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and geographically close to the critical sea lanes connecting the eastern and western hemispheres. They are actively involved in negotiations concerning the inclusion of the Code of Conduct in the South China Sea. Vietnam will continue to work closely with Myanmar and other ASEAN members to promote the rules governing the seas, and ensure the unity, solidarity and centrality of ASEAN in the legal and institutional regional architecture, ultimately contributing to peace and stability in the region. Under the bilateral cooperation framework, both countries have agreed to enhance aviation, and road and waterway connectivity.