What are the potential areas for further co-operation between Vietnam and New Zealand?
Well this is what I love about my job: that we already have a great partnership with Vietnam yet there are a lot of opportunities left. Particularly, I am thinking of the trade and economic area, as well as education, but we also see a phenomenal rise in people-to-people tourism links. Without a doubt, there are plenty of benefits to both Vietnam and New Zealand, which is great to see.
New Zealand certainly wants to strengthen co-operation across the board. We have seen a really high level of political commitment, as demonstrated by our very new prime minister coming to the APEC only two weeks after her inauguration last year. The two nations are also maintaining great trade and economic partnership as two-way trade is up 18% on-year.
We are also seeing encouraging signs on the political and security front as defense cooperation is picking up. There were cordial visits by the New Zealand Chief of Army and the defense secretary to Vietnam last year and I think we will see more such defense links in the future. All this shows that the two sides are deepening and broadening their relationship.
The role of education as a pillar in Vietnam-New Zealand ties, according to you?
Well education is a foundation for the New Zealand-Vietnam relationship. It has been a big part of our history and present, and - I’m sure - our future. We’re really pleased to welcome an increasing number of Vietnamese students down to New Zealand. This is great to see that there’s an increase in interest in the high quality education New Zealand can offer. Part of that is that we have also tried to contribute to building Vietnam’s future leaders by offering scholarships. So we offer 13 post-graduate scholarships a year to go down to New Zealand. We also offer English language training for official schemes. Both of these are very really long schemes. These schemes have taken a number of high-quality students to New Zealand and we’re really proud of them.
The New Zealand ASEAN Scholar Awards (NZAS) lies among highlighted education programs between the two countries. What are the criterions for its candidate?
These scholarships are very competitive. We get a lot of applications from very high-quality students. What we particularly try and do is focus on some particular areas where New Zealand has some expertise and also where the Vietnamese government can see that they have some particular needs. So we focus the ASEAN scholarships on agriculture, disaster risk management, renewable energy, and public and private sector management
Besides education cooperation, trade tie between Vietnam and New Zealand has added some new strokes recently. The ASEAN, Australia and New Zealand signed a free trade agreement (FTA) in 2009. How did this agreement add value to relations with the ASEAN and Vietnam?
The partnership between New Zealand and Vietnam has posted numerous achievements since we signed the ASEAN-Australian-New Zealand FTA in 2009. Two-way trade volume has increased by 150%. The two countries have very similar export figures, so we have both benefited from the opening up of trade between us.
I think we have seen growing trade across the ASEAN since the FTA was signed. However, it is not just about the numbers, it is also about the heightened discourse between regulators, about us understanding each other more, about promoting investment cross-border investment.
We are really pleased that our relationship with Vietnam is going beyond the ASEAN-Australian-New Zealand FTA, as we are also currently negotiating Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and of course the Comprehensive & Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which we hope to finalize very shortly. The trade pact, I think, will add another strand to our already-blooming relationship.
Talking about the CPTPP, what role does New Zealand play in finalizing the pact in 2018? Is there any collaboration with Vietnam to complete it?
Certainly, New Zealand is committed to the CPTPP. As I mentioned, New Zealand elected a new government last year, who have also committed to continuing with the CPTPP. We are very hopeful that the treaty will be finalized shortly. It was great to see how fast the CPTPP progressed under Vietnam’s leadership in the APEC last year, and we believe the 11 countries are truly committed to moving ahead in 2018.
I think the TPP and CPTPP had their origins in the P4 agreement that was signed many years ago between New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, and Brunei. P4 was designed as a platform that would grow and remain open to more members—and it eventually grew into the TPP (and then to CPTPP), so I think eventually there may be new members, but quite frankly I think the members need to focus on finalizing the CPTPP for now. This will be the priority for New Zealand and I think for other members as well.