Vietnam’s importing, exporting and investing activities with African nations are increasingly bustling as the continent proves a fast-growing market.

The Vietnam Business Forum had an interview with Chairman of the Vietnam - Africa - Middle East Forum Le Dang Dung, who is also Deputy General Director of Viettel Telecom Group, on this aspect.

* How do you assess the attractiveness of the African market to Vietnamese enterprises?

According to statistics released by the Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, more and more Vietnamese companies are investing in Africa. In addition to State-owned enterprises (SOEs) with powerful financial resources, more private companies are now interested in this potential market. Fields in Africa attracting investment are also increasingly diversified. From 2002 to August 2012, Vietnam's direct investment capital to Africa reached 711 million USD. Meanwhile, African countries also started investing in Vietnam, but the amount of capital was very modest, totalling just 67.76 million USD.

* So, do you think this is a good time for Vietnamese enterprises to invest in Africa?

The Party and Government of Vietnam have issued many policies to foster ties with African countries on both political and economic spheres. So, I think this is a favourable time for Vietnamese enterprises to invest in the African market.

Beside political diplomacy measures with African countries, I think that the economic diplomacy trend is a necessary and right step because good bilateral economic relations will of course help strengthen good political relations.

Enterprises play a particularly important role in foreign economic activities. There are two levels of external economic relations. The first level is trade and commodity-exchange relations. The second level is higher, that is, investing directly in the partner country. Encouraging Vietnamese enterprises to invest abroad, particularly in high potential markets like Africa, Latin America and Southeast Asia, especially in poor countries with living standards equal to or lower than Vietnam, provides huge opportunities for Vietnamese companies.

* In which areas can Vietnamese companies invest in Africa?

They are agriculture, forestry, fisheries, garment - textile, and consumer goods. These are fields needed by African countries and in which Vietnam is strong. Secondly, African countries have good sentiment for Vietnam. They admire Vietnam for the victories in two modern wars renowned to the world; thus, the image of Vietnam is very good in the eyes of Africans. Thirdly, Vietnamese enterprises can now easily access high-level officials of the host country to learn more useful information about investment processes.

However, currently, information about Africa is very limited. So, we often feel that Africa is a remote place where economic life is difficult and weather is inclement. In addition, many people fear cultural differences, especially payment issues, because it is quite difficult to convert local currencies into hard currencies to circulate in other international markets or bring to the home country. Besides, their local currencies are unstable and frequently devalued.

* How do you address this issue?

In my opinion, the Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and other agencies need to provide more information, and introduce effective orientation policies for specific fields in different countries, especially the countries with good investment incentives, to Vietnamese enterprises. Specifically, they need provide detailed information about investment in this market like which country is good for agricultural investment, which country is good for seafood investment, which country is good for apparel and motorcycle production investment.

Besides, Vietnam's banking system needs to work out solutions to overcome payment difficulties against enterprises.

At the government level, Vietnam and African nations need to reach agreements to a level that is supportive and protective to Vietnamese companies in Africa.

According to my point of view, if we let enterprises do this on their own, it will be very difficult for them and this approach is definitely ineffective.

In addition, another major difficulty is that Vietnam almost has no trade missions in Africa. Hence, there is a need for early establishment of such agencies to support Vietnamese enterprises to do business in this market.

* As a top leader of a very big business with profound experience in overseas investment, especially in Africa, would you mind sharing some experience drawn from actual business practices in this market?

In my opinion, there are three points that Vietnam now needs to be very careful about and focus on when investing in Africa:

Firstly, they must do meticulous research on the market they want to invest in. For example, in the telecommunications sector, before making the investment decision, Viettel learned very well about the market like phone service charge and service quality of potential rivals and other factors to determine our customer groups and competitive strategies. In short, we need all information about the market and industry where we intend to do business.

Secondly, we need to establish good relationships with high-ranking officials of the host country. If we plan to invest dozens of millions of US dollars, we need to meet directly the President or the Prime Minister of the host country. If we have not done that, we had better not make investment decision.

Thirdly, we need to prepare enough quality human resources and enthusiasm to work in such a remote place. I emphasise that the initial framework in a new market is a crucial factor to success. Therefore, we need to pay special attention to this issue. For example, when Viettel intended to invest in an African nation, it brought a very good line-up to the targeted market from another Africa nation. This force will quickly assume their positions and jobs because they have basic understanding of foreign languages, working practices and habits, culture of indigenous people. This also helps build up the sympathy of the Government and people of the host country.

If a company wants to invest in a country where Viettel is present, we are always willing to help on all sides with all our best, because we at all times want to build up a powerful Vietnamese business community there and achieve more success on the world market, thus helping Vietnam enhance its image on the international arena.-VNA