Vietnam always attaches importance to boosting the friendship and multifaceted cooperation with the Middle East- North Africa, top Vietnamese diplomat has said.

Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh made the remarks in an article in anticipation of an economic cooperation forum between Vietnam and the Middle East-North Africa which is slated for November 4-5 in Hanoi.

“Despite the geographical distance, Vietnam and the Middle East - North Africa boast time-honoured cooperative and friendly ties, which have withstood by the test of the history’s ups and downs,” Minh said.

On such base, marked achievements have been made in the relationship between Vietnam and the countries over the past years, he said.

In terms of politics, the Vietnamese people and those of the regional countries have shared a strong bond and given a great support to each other during the past struggle for national independence and the current national construction and development.

The two sides have maintained regular exchanges of delegations at all levels, particularly high-ranking delegations. Among them were Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's visits to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Kuwait and Qatar in 2009; those by President Nguyen Minh Triet to Saudi Arabia , Tunisia and Algeria in 2010; the visits to Vietnam by the Prime Ministers of Kuwait (2007) and Morocco (2008) and the visit by the Palestinian President (2010).

“The visits have contributed significantly to shaping and promoting the multifaceted cooperation framework between Vietnam and the countries,” the diplomat said.

In terms of economic cooperation, two-way trade between Vietnam and the region was 7.4 billion USD in 2012, an 878 percent increase from 2002 (889 million USD). Of which, Vietnam ’s trade with some partners surpassed 1 billion USD per year.

Some Gulf countries have been actively involved in many projects in Vietnam such as the Nghi Son oil refinery and petrochemical complex, the Long Son petrochemical complex, and Ha Long Star Hotel.

Some Vietnamese enterprises are also implementing investment projects in the region, notably an oil and gas exploration and production project by the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group in Algeria with total capital of over 200 million USD.

Regarding labour issues, over the past 30 years, hundreds of thousands of Vietnamese experts and workers have rendered their knowledge and strength to the development of many Middle Eastern and North African countries, serving as a bridge of friendship between the two sides, Minh said.

Currently, more than 26,000 Vietnamese workers are taking part in a number of projects in Saudi Arabia (17,000 workers), UAE (7,500), and Libya (1,000).

In the context of the rapid development of bilateral cooperation, Vietnam has become a new destination in the operation expansion strategy of many major airlines in the region such as Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Emirates Airlines, and Etihad Airways.
In development cooperation, over recent years, the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, OPEC Fund for International Development and the Saudi Fund for Development have provided preferential loans worth over 427 million USD for 33 projects to develop rural infrastructure, health care and education in Vietnam. These projects have made practical contributions to socio-economic development and poverty reduction in many Vietnamese localities, helping improve the quality of life for many local people.

Cooperation in the development of human resources is a demonstration of the friendship between the two sides. Along with the presence of Vietnam-Algeria Secondary School in Hanoi since 1985, scholarship programmes have been launched by Egypt, Iran, Libya, Turkey, Qatar, Kuwait and Morocco for Vietnamese students and those by Vietnam for students of Palestine, Iran and Iraq, contributing to boosting the friendship and multifaceted cooperation between Vietnam and the countries.

After nearly 30 years of reform and opening, Vietnam is on the path of industrialisation and modernisation. To date, the country has developed diplomatic ties with over 180 countries and economic-trade relations with over 200 countries and territories.

Vietnam is an attractive investment destination with political stability, a promising market and abundant and skilled human resources.

Currently, Vietnam is negotiating such important free trade agreements as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

“These agreements are expected to open up great cooperation opportunities not only for Vietnamese businesses but also for foreign investors operating in Vietnam,” Minh said.

Vietnam is delighted at the remarkable developments in relations between the two sides over the recent time, particularly in trade, energy, investment and labour, making the Middle East - North Africa countries its important economic partners.

The diplomat said however, that compared with the potential and desire of both sides, the results remain modest.

He reasoned that two-way trade between Vietnam and Middle East - North Africa countries grew rapidly but it accounted for only 5 percent of the former’s total import-export value in 2012.

Meanwhile, the countries’ investment into Vietnam remains modest as compared to tens of billions of USD they pour into foreign countries annually.

Minh cited the lack of information as one of the main reasons behind the performance, calling for more efforts from both sides to improve the effectiveness of cooperation, especially in the economic field.

With the participation of representatives from the Government, ministries, localities and business communities from the Middle East - North Africa and Vietnam , the upcoming forum will be an opportunity for policy makers and business leaders to enhance their mutual understanding.

It will serve as a forum for them to discuss specific measures to raise the effectiveness of their economic ties and open up business opportunities for enterprises of Vietnam and the region, especially in trade, investment, energy, labour and agriculture.

“We believe that the forum will be a success, creating a new driving force to further enhance the effectiveness of economic links between Vietnam and the Middle East - North Africa partners,” the diplomat concluded.-VNA