|NZ Ambassador to Vietnam Wendy Matthews says both New Zealand and Vietnam still have room for stronger cooperation
NZ Ambassador to Vietnam Wendy Matthews granted VTCWorld an exclusive interview, offering deep insights into New Zealand-Vietnam relations over the years and the prospects in the coming years.
Reporter: This year Vietnam and New Zealand are celebrating the 45th anniversary of diplomacy between the two countries. Could you brief us on the major achievements in bilateral relations over the years?
Ambassador Matthews: 2020 marks the 45th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between New Zealand and Vietnam. In the last four decades, the relationship has grown from strength to strength in many areas such as politics, agriculture, education, trade, defence among others.
Bilateral trade has grown more than triple since 2010 and almost double since the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA) took effect. People to people exchanges are thriving, so is tourism in both directions. About 40,000 New Zealanders visit Vietnam annually to enjoy the beautiful scenery and wonderful food. We also receive an increasing number of Vietnamese holidaymakers to explore New Zealand.
In the political area, there are regular high-level reciprocal exchanges from both countries’ leaders. Our Prime Ministers and Ministers meet regularly, exchanging views on areas of mutual concern. We are very pleased to welcome Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc to New Zealand in 2018 and before that, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern visited Vietnam during the 2017 APEC Summit in Da Nang.
Reporter: Vietnam-New Zealand relations have made breakthroughs in various areas, including education and trade, since the two countries officially lifted their relationship to a comprehensive partnership in 2009. Could you please shed light on the potential of educational and trade cooperation between the two countries?
Ambassador Matthews: I am pleased to see that our trade and economic growth are quite balanced. We import as much from Vietnam as we export. Both sides are growing at the same pace. We are working really well together in the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) and before that in the AANZFTA. We have great trading framework between us.
Education is one of the core pillars for bilateral relationship. More than 2,700 Vietnamese students chose to study in New Zealand in 2018. This number included 600 secondary school students, a 40% increase from the previous year. There was also an 8% increase in the number of students studying at New Zealand universities at the same time.
Through the New Zealand Aid Programme, we offer a number of scholarships. Since the 1990s, more than 330 Vietnamese students and 560 officials have received awards to pursue a postgraduate qualification, or study English in New Zealand.
Since 2018, New Zealand offers New Zealand Schools Scholarship to Vietnam, the first of its kind, for middle and high school students to pursue education in New Zealand.
In the last 5 years, based on the Strategic Engagement Plan on Education framework, many joint programmes in the tertiary sector, early childhood education and improving education systems have been fostered and nurtured between government agencies and education institutions of the two countries. We are seeing more and more partnerships between two countries’ institutions, which Vietnam students can do some of their study in Vietnam and some in New Zealand.
New Zealand will continue its commitments to support Vietnam’s efforts in achieving its 21st century education objectives to produce well-trained, work-ready graduates with skills necessary to compete in a rapidly changing global market.
Reporter: Agricultural cooperation is a core pillar in Vietnam-New Zealand relationship. What will New Zealand support Vietnam in developing such a high quality agriculture, which is in early infancy in the country?
Ambassador Matthews: Both New Zealand and Vietnam are proud to be agricultural nations. We both export agricultural products to each other. While Vietnam has strength in such products as rice, coffee, cashew nuts and tropical fruits, New Zealand’s strength includes dairy products, meat, apple and kiwi. Therefore, the economics and trade of our countries are supplementary, not competitive.
From my perspective, Vietnam’s agriculture is presenting exciting opportunities. The sector is shifting towards the commercialization of agriculture products and high value export markets. High quality agriculture development will be the focus of Vietnam that New Zealand can lend our most practical support.
As an exporter of high-quality agriculture products, New Zealand focuses on products of high quality rather than large quantity. We aim to assist Vietnam to achieve excellence in all stages of the value chain, from conducting variety research, applying appropriate cultivation practices, registering copyrights, to protecting plant variety and marketing, to ensure Vietnamese agricultural products are safe, efficient, and they taste delicious.
Reporter: What are difficulties and challenges in bilateral trade and investment cooperation, and what shall we do to overcome these difficulties?
Ambassador Matthews: COVID-19 has posed some great challenges to the world. Nevertheless, we are really pleased to see that the great trade between New Zealand and Vietnam in both directions have so far held pretty steady, compared to pre-COVID-19.
However, what is decreasing is the service sector. There are a lot of New Zealand tourists who love and enjoy Vietnam. Vice versa, every year, we welcome a large number of Vietnamese students into our country. It is really the service sector that has begun to bear the brunt of the COVID-19.
It is essential to enhance food and agricultural trade to ensure trade and economic links continue to flourish between New Zealand and Vietnam. On July 21, both countries stepped up trade facilitation by signing a cooperative arrangement to establish the first electronic certification for food and agricultural products via Vietnam’s National Single Window. This arrangement will make trade faster, more secure and cheaper between our two countries. We are honoured to work with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to further enhance trade cooperation between our countries and to support Vietnam in realizing its Industrial Revolution 4.0 ambition.
Reporter: Vietnam and New Zealand share many similar interests, including freedom of navigation and over-flight as well as the compliance with international law in the East Sea. Could you please share your opinion about recent developments in the East Sea?
Ambassador Matthews: There are a lot of converging strategic interests between New Zealand and Vietnam. Both countries have similar approaches, for example, we are both supporters of regional economic integration. We are members of AANZFTA and CPTPP, and we are strong components of multilateralism. We both work hard in international organizations such as APEC, WTO and the United Nations of which Vietnam is a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council this year. We very much commend Vietnam for its role as the peacekeeper for the region, the chairman of ASEAN and the non-permanent member of the UNSC.
We are both support international law. For New Zealand, international law is an important part of our foreign policy. As a small country, we look for multilateral organizations that help us to amplify our voice.