Local firms should focus on improving competitiveness in the quality of export products for the European Union (EU) market in the future, said a trade official.

Vu Ba Phu, Minister Counsellor of the Vietnamese Embassy in Belgium and the EU (Luxembourg concurrently), told thoibaokinhdoanh.vn that the EU has been an important market for Vietnam since 2012.

He added that the EU is now Vietnam's largest export market with a total trade value of 30 billion USD for 2013, followed by the US, China, the ASEAN countries and Japan .

The EU has been a commodities market for Vietnam, with export products including coffee, cashew, textiles, garments, leather, footwear, electronics and telephone products, Phu said. He noted that the EU offers higher export value than the other markets. However, it has strict quality standards.

This year was a difficult one for the EU market because it didn't make much of a recovery, but Vietnam's firms made efforts to export their products there, especially high-tech products such as electronics, telephones, textiles, garments, leather and footwear.

The export of textiles, garments, leather and footwear products have maintained stable growth, while the export of electronics and electrical and telephone products have made a year-on-year increase of 50 percent, Phu noted. But the export of seafood and coffee products to the EU has dropped sharply.

However, the EU has seen growth in some economic sectors, and it will overcome the economic crisis after implementing numerous solutions, Phu said.

Therefore, Vietnam expects a recovery in market demand and international trading activities in the EU next year, including commercial activities with Vietnam that will continue to grow, Phu stated.

To enter the EU market, local exporters should access Belgium's market first because if Vietnamese exports make a mark there, they will be successful in the EU market also, Phu said.

Additionally, they should change the focus from competitiveness in price to competitiveness in output, quality and efficiency because the EU market accepts high import prices and asks for high quality, stability, customer care services and commitment to product quality, he pointed out.

Local enterprises should invest in building factories in Belgium to complete the last process of export products because they can introduce new products, meant for the EU market, in Belgium first.

Moreover, direct investment in Belgium could help the enterprises to reduce the production cost of export products and also to increase their competitiveness.

At present, enterprises from Vietnam and the EU expect the bilateral free trade agreement to be finalised as soon as possible because it will bring low tariffs for products from Vietnam and the EU in the two markets, with the aim of reducing prices and diversifying goods.

It will be a great chance for local firms to increase their exports to the EU when the agreement comes into effect, Phu remarked.-VNA