I first served in Vietnam as Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Belgium in Hanoi during 1994-1998, and came back to Vietnam as the Ambassador of Belgium from 2011 until July 2015. I took up my new mission as the Head of the EU Delegation in October 2015.
Compared to the Vietnam I knew 20 years ago, socio-economic achievements since the launch of Doi moi have been impressive, and people’s living conditions in general have improved remarkably. When I visited remote areas in localities like Lai Chau or Lao Cai, I understood that the people’s first priorities were roads, clean water, and electricity. These are also areas where a lot of developments have been taking place.
Good policies with proper attention for the conditions in poorer localities ensured inclusive development and improved social security. Vietnam has been among the best-performing nations on poverty reduction, while being successful in ensuring macro-economic stability and industrial development. The policies have also contributed to making Vietnam one of the world’s largest exporters of rice, pepper, rubber, cashew, and aquatic products.
Currently, Vietnam is reaching a new stage in its development process. In addition to the great impetuses such as political and social stability, large exports, the attraction of large-scale foreign direct investment, and the people’s strong determination to drive the country forward, Vietnam is also facing some stiff challenges which will not be easily tackled overnight.
For example, a significant number of young Vietnamese studying abroad do not return home, leading to a loss of Vietnam's most valuable human capital. This urgently needs to be addressed through proper policies and incentives to bring talent back home.
Also, Vietnam is one of the ASEAN countries with the highest export-to-GDP ratios. About 70 per cent of the country’s export turnover stems from foreign direct investment. The key question here is how to increase Vietnam's home-based industries’ contribution to exports and added value within the economy.
Vietnam also suffers from weak local supporting industries. This has forced firms to import materials from foreign markets at higher prices. Additionally, Vietnam will have to ensure a more sustainable energy sector in order to preserve its competitiveness, while at the same time reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution for the good of its people.
Vietnam also achieved great successes in economic integration through the participation in a raft of free trade agreements (FTA), and has recently concluded negotiations on the EU-Vietnam FTA. Upon implementation, this deal will usher in many opportunities for Vietnam and the EU to boost trade and investment co-operation. As a leading trade partner of Vietnam, and the third largest foreign investor in Vietnam since 2015, European member states and institutions are Vietnam’s increasingly important partners, willing to support the country as it addresses new challenges. Vietnam is also a very attractive partner for us within ASEAN.
We are committed to continuing to support Vietnam’s development via our comprehensive partnership and many co-operation programmes. Together, Vietnam and Europe have a bright future ahead.