The official visit to Vietnam by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg from April 16-18 is expected to boost bilateral relations which have grown over the last four decades.

Since their diplomatic ties were established in November 1971, Vietnam and Norway have seen their relations actively developing across politics, economics, culture and society.

Most recently, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung met with his Norwegian counterpart Erna Solberg on the sidelines of the third Nuclear Security Summit in the Netherlands in March 2014 and the 10th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) Summit in Italy seven months later. Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and Norwegian Foreign Minister Borge Brende also had a meeting on the fringe of the 10th ASEM Summit.

The two countries have existing effective cooperative mechanisms such as the political consultations between Deputy Foreign Ministers and human rights dialogues between directors of the two Foreign Ministries’ departments to enhance mutual understanding and cooperation.

The European country has assisted Vietnam in its “doi moi” (reform) efforts, poverty eradication and international integration. The two sides have also effectively coordinated at international forums and organisations such as the United Nations (UN) and the World Trade Organisation.

Bilateral trade was posted at 307.8 million USD in 2014, rising by 28 percent from the previous year. Vietnam mainly exports textile-garments, footwear, timber and wood products and cashew nuts to Norway while importing aquatic, chemical and steel products; machinery; spare parts; and fertilisers.

The European Free Trade Area (EFTA), grouping Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein, recognised Vietnam’s market economy in July 2012.

By the end of February 2015, Norway had 30 valid projects with total registered capital of 121 million USD in Vietnam, ranking 37th among countries and territories investing in the Southeast Asian nation. About 40 Norwegian businesses are operating in Vietnam, mostly in Ho Chi Minh City, Binh Duong province, Vung Tau city, Khanh Hoa province, Hanoi, and Hai Phong city.

Vietnam does not currently have any direct investments in the European nation.

The two countries’ development cooperation was restored in October 1996 following the signing of framework agreement in this regard.

Norway is currently one of the largest sponsors of Vietnam in the UN Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD). It pledged to provide more than 30 million USD for the UN-REDD implementation in Vietnam from 2013 and 2015.

Norwegian-funded projects in education, healthcare, natural resource management and renewable energy are also being carried out efficiently, helping the Southeast Asian nation fulfil the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) ahead of schedule.

Norway’s total assistance to Vietnam now exceeds 320 million USD.

Over the past years, the two countries’ cultural cooperation has strengthened, as evidenced by the Transposition programme. Beginning in 2007, the Norwegian-financed programme connected 12 arts organisations, held joint concerts and offered trainings.

Norway has also granted annual scholarships for Vietnamese students and graduates and helped improve the capacity of lecturers and researchers at universities and institutes in Vietnam.

Since 2005, Vietnam has given 14-day visa exemptions for citizens of North European countries, including Norway. It welcomed more than 22,700 Norwegian visitors last year, up 7.3 percent from 2013.

The Vietnamese community in Norway currently exceeds 20,000, about 90 percent of which have Norwegian nationality. It is the biggest Vietnamese community in North European countries.

The upcoming Vietnam visit by Norwegian Prime Minister Erna Solberg aims to discuss concrete measures to foster collaboration in economics, climate change resilience, water management, renewable energy, agriculture, oil and gas and shipbuilding.

The tour is also expected to seek ways to conclude negotiations on the Vietnam – EFTA free trade agreement, the 11th round of which took place from January 13-16 this year in HCM City. It will also bolster partnership to realise the MDGs and build post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals.-VNA