Interview: Pham Binh Minh
How do you characterise the current relationship between Vietnam and Kuwait, and in what policy areas are there opportunities for more cooperation?
PHAM BINH MINH: I am delighted to have seen our cooperation developing strongly in many areas in recent years, with Kuwait becoming one of our most important partners in the Middle East. Vietnam highly values the country’s support and assistance through the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. To date, Kuwait has funded 11 infrastructure projects worth more than $154.4m, including irrigation, roads and development initiatives in poor communities such as Da Bac in Hoa Binh Province. Though, in fact, partnership dates backs many years. Dau Tieng irrigation project in Tay Ninh province, for example, has been in operation for 30 years and has become a symbol of our relationship.
Going forward, we need to enhance our multi-faceted relationship. Economically, we need to bolster exchanges between businesses as well as encourage participation in exhibitions and fairs organised by each country. We also need to set up a mechanism for cooperation and information exchange between each country’s chamber of commerce and industry.
We can also encourage initiatives to facilitate business and investment activities. To this end, we are thankful that Kuwait sent a delegation and made a significant contribution to the success of the Economic Cooperation Forum between Vietnam and the Middle East-North Africa, which took place on November 4-5, 2013 in Hanoi. The relevant agencies from Vietnam are working hard with partners in the Middle East and North Africa, including Kuwait, to realise the outcomes of this forum. I am confident that the leaders and people of the two countries will help to expand cooperation based on our existing and potential friendship.
Besides energy, in which sectors do you see the greatest potential for stronger bilateral relations?
BINH MINH: Vietnam and Kuwait still have a lot of untapped potential for enhancing cooperation, particularly in trade, investment and labour. Two-way trade in 2013 was recorded at $740m, a 16-fold increase compared to 2007, in which oil and gas and related products contributed a large share (94%). Nevertheless, Vietnam’s exports account for just 5% of bilateral trade.
To strengthen cooperation, we want to encourage more imports from Vietnam, particularly products for which we have a comparative advantage and that are in high demand in Kuwait, including rice, milk, seafood, wood ware, coffee, tea, pepper, rubber products, garment and textiles, handicrafts, and electronic spare-parts. Kuwaiti businesses can also invest in growing areas of Vietnam’s economy, including infrastructure development related to highways, airports, seaports and tourist resorts, as well as rural infrastructure and agriculture modernisation. All in all, Vietnam wants to ensure that conditions are attractive for foreign businesses and investors, particularly those from Kuwait.
In what way will the Nghi Son Refinery and Petrochemical Complex (NSRPC) impact Vietnam’s economy, and how is Kuwait a partner in the project?
BINH MINH: NSRPC, a project that received investment from Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC), officially started in October 2013. As the largest refinery in Vietnam, the NSRPC also has the most advanced technology of any petrochemical project in the country. With a capacity of 10m tonnes per year and total investment of more than $9bn, the initiative serves as a driving force for growth, socio-economic development and security, in addition to promoting greater industrialisation and modernisation in Vietnam. KPC’s commitment of 35.1% to total investment and long-term supply of crude oil for the refinery is a major part of the project’s success. As a new symbol of friendship, the NSRPC highlights growing multi-faceted cooperation between Vietnam and Kuwait. With our active efforts and common cooperative platforms, we want to see more such investment projects in the near future for the benefit of our shared prosperity and friendship.
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