The Vietnamese Government hopes the economic cooperation forum with Middle East and North African partners will help boost the friendship and cooperation between Vietnam and these countries, especially in economics, trade, investment, oil, gas and labour.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung made the statement while addressing the first ever event in Hanoi on November 4.

In his opinion, Vietnam and the Middle East-North African countries have great advantages and potential which can supplement each other for mutual cooperation and development.

The country is an attractive investment destination with a stable socio-political environment and a potential market with skilful workers, situated in Asia-Pacific, a dynamic region and a driving force of the world’s economic growth, he said.

Meanwhile, the Middle East-North Africa acts as a gateway for Asia, Europe and Africa, and possesses abundant natural resources with oil and gas reserves topping the world, the PM added.

The Vietnamese Government leader asked the forum to propose specific initiatives and measures to improve the effectiveness of cooperation mechanisms so that the governments of Vietnam and Middle East-North Africa countries can facilitate their enterprises’ operation.

He also asked the delegates to discuss measures to boost and expand cooperation in the fields of each party’s strength, especially trade, energy, mining and infrastructure development, as well as build up and sign agreements to create a stable and long-term legal framework for cooperation between the two sides.

The parties need to build up orientations and seek measures to further improve the effectiveness of cooperation activities in agriculture, labour, education and training, healthcare, culture and tourism, PM Dung said.

According to the PM, Vietnam is implementing its socio-economic development strategy by 2020 with a focus on improving its institutions, legal system, infrastructure, and human resources quality in parallel with restructuring the economy for sustainable development.

Currently, Vietnam is negotiating such important free trade agreements as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, Trans-Pacific Partnership, Free Trade Agreement with the EU and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan among others he said.

These are expected to open up great cooperation opportunities not only for Vietnamese businesses but also for foreign investors operating in the country, he added.

“We pledge to create favourable conditions for foreign investors to do their long-term business in Vietnam,” said PM Dung, affirming “your success is our success.”

The two-day forum features a plenary session on investment and business environment and two thematic sessions, one on cooperation in energy, trade and infrastructure development, and the other on labour, agriculture and tourism cooperation.

Despite the geographical distance, Vietnam and the Middle East-North Africa boast time-honoured cooperative and friendly ties. The country has established diplomatic ties with almost all countries in the region.

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.

Many businesses in the region are investing in Vietnam, especially in oil and gas, seaports, industry and property, while some Vietnamese enterprises have implemented projects in Middle East-North Africa, 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.

However, the results remain modest compared to the potential and desire of both sides.

Two-way trade between Vietnam and Middle East-North African countries grew rapidly in 2012 but it accounted for only five percent of the former’s total import-export value last year.

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

About of 26,000 Vietnamese are working in the countries, accounting for only 0.3 percent of the total./.