The 2007 ASEAN-Korea Free Trade Agreement has significantly increased trade between Vietnam and the Republic of Korea (RoK), according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

Le An Hai, deputy director general of the ministry's Asia-Pacific Market Department, said two-way trade went up from 6.58 billion USD in 2007 to 21.1 billion USD last year.

It is expected to top 27 billion USD this year, he said at a conference organised by the Ho Chi Minh City WTO Centre on October 4.

The two sides have pledged to boost exports of Vietnamese farm produce to reduce Vietnam 's trade deficit.

The RoK is now Vietnam 's fourth largest trading partner behind the US , EU, and China , he said.

The FTA may have helped Vietnam boost exports of textile and garment, seafood, wood products, and processed foods to the RoK, but exports of fruits and vegetables have not risen much, he said.

As an agricultural country, Vietnam can supply all kinds of fresh and processed farm produce, he said.

Hong Won Sik, general director of Lotte Vietnam Shopping Co Ltd, said the RoK imports a lot of farm produce, but to penetrate the market, products must meet strict requirements set by the Government.

Kim Tae Ho, non-food director of Lotte Viet Nam Shopping Co Ltd, said however the RoK Government has imposed monthly limits on farm imports.

Ho said Vietnamese firms should carefully study when they can export their products to the RoK and ensure they meet delivery deadlines since the RoK has four distinct seasons.

They must also study the RoK Government's stringent conditions for imports, especially of fresh fruits, he said.

Despite low prices, the inconsistencies in size, colour, and taste of Vietnamese fruits have worked against their export, he said.

Their packaging too cannot match those from countries like China and Thailand , he noted.

Their screening and hygiene standards must be improved if they are to be exported in larger quantities to the RoK, he advised.

Hai urged local firms to invest in production technologies to improve the quality and competitiveness of their produce.

Garment and textile, seafood, processed foods, household utensils, farm produce, and electronic and machinery parts are among products that can be exported to the RoK, he said.

He urged companies to carefully study demand, consumption habits, trade barriers and distribution systems in the RoK before entering the market.-VNA