Vietnamese firms should take advantage of a market opportunity to step up export of agricultural products, rice in particular, to Africa, the Middle East and South Asia , a senior official said.

Ly Quoc Hung, head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's African, West Asian and South Asian Markets Department, was addressing a seminar in HCM City on Dec.23.

The UAE market has imported rice worth 1.3 billion USD last year, mainly from Thailand . However, the output of Thai rice has decreased in the 2011-12 crop because of natural disasters, leading to inadequate supply and high export prices, he said.

"It is a good opportunity for us to occupy a larger proportion of such markets next year", he added.

Rice is still Vietnam 's biggest export item to Africa and Bangladesh , accounting for more than 16 percent of the total export turnover last year, followed by seafood, textile and garments, electronic and electrical products.

Hung noted that in the next five years, rice will remain the key export item because of great demand in many African countries. Every year, African countries import an average of more than 8 million tonnes of rice.

Most African and Middle Eastern nations lack developed agricultural sectors for various reasons, so demand for staple grains is high. A rising trend in using seafood to replace meat in daily meals in African and Middle Eastern markets has increased demand for these products as well.

This demand presents a valuable opportunity for Vietnamese businesses to intensify exports and undertake research in the aquaculture potential of these countries to serve exports to neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, some other items accounte for a large chunk of the export turnover to African, Middle East and South Asian markets. These include coffee, pepper, cashew, coconut and basa catfish, Hung said.

Apart from agricultural items, the export of gold and precious stones to the African market has increased sharply since 2010, particularly to South Africa .

The mobile phone is a new export item for Vietnam , but it is one of the items with high turnover. This business is done primarily by FDI businesses in the country.

For the Middle Eastern market, textile and garments, footwear, household appliances and construction material are items of high interest, he said.

Hung also warned the Vietnamese exporter about taxation barriers, especially anti-dumping taxes in trade, especially in India and Turkey . Because it has a large market share, Vietnam should keep a close eye on warning systems in these countries to timely prevent trade lawsuits that can have negative impacts on bilateral trade relations, he said.

Another difficulty faced by Vietnamese exporters is in securing payment. Vietnamese businesses should ensure payment through advance deposits or opening a letter of credit with prestigious banks because of many instances of fraud in the African, Middle Eastern and South Asian markets, Hung said.

To speed up exports to these regions, Vietnam needs to pay attention to product quality and design, to ensure that they are in accordance with market demand and technical regulations.

To fully tap the export growth potential in South Asia, Vietnam should take opportunities presented through the India-ASEAN free trade agreement. It will also consider signing preferential trade agreements with Sri Lanka to expand export to the new market and develop new export items for Bangladesh and Pakistan , Hung said./.