‘We see Vietnam as an increasingly important regional strategic partner’: Australian Ambassador Mudie

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'We see Vietnam as an increasingly important regional strategic partner': Australian Ambassador Mudie

Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie gestures in an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, February 21, 2022. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie spoke with Tuoi Tre News about the critical role of Vietnam in her country’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.

Before taking on the ambassadorship in 2019, Mudie had previously served overseas as High Commissioner of the Australian High Commission in Sri Lanka; Deputy Permanent Representative of United Nations (UN) in Geneva; First Secretary and UN Permanent Mission in New York; and Second Secretary of the Australian Embassy in Hanoi.

She is also a Vietnamese speaker who studied Vietnamese at the RAAF School of Languages (1992), the Foreign Languages School in Hanoi (1993), and the Diplomatic Academy (2019), according to the Australian Embassy in Vietnam.

Ambassador Mudie sat down for an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News this week to discuss Vietnam’s part in Australia’s strategy in the Indo-Pacific region.

What does Vietnam represent in Australia’s Indo-Pacific strategic interests?

We see Vietnam as an increasingly important regional strategic partner, as well as an economic and political partner in the region. We have a range of converging interests, which are based foremost on preserving the peace and stability of the Indo-Pacific region.

We worked very hard to talk to Vietnam and other regional partners on the importance of basic Indo-Pacific engagement under international law. We also have a very strong converging range of interests across all aspects of the relationship, including politics, economics, defense, security, agriculture, and education.

This is a very broad-ranging relationship, and that says a lot about the importance of Vietnam to Australia as our regional partner.

Could you elaborate on how a prosperous and strong Vietnam will benefit Australia’s foreign policy?

So our interest is in having a strong, prosperous Vietnam as an element of a set secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region. And to that end, we are working very hard to build our economic ties with Vietnam.

We work very closely regionally and internationally to pursue shared interests. For example, just recently, Australia and Vietnam co-hosted the second dialogue, the ASEAN dialogue on women’s peace and security.

The staff of May Cosmetics showed Ambassador Mudie and delegation a box of Pfizer vaccine which was part of the last shipment of vaccine Australia committed to facilitate Vietnam's vaccination program. Photo: Australian Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

An employee of May Cosmetics shows Ambassador Robyn Mudie and her group a box of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine vials, part of the last shipment of doses Australia donated to facilitate Vietnam’s vaccination drive. Photo: Australian Consulate-General in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

We have paid a lot of attention to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on Vietnam. We want to see it recover fast and strongly from the pandemic, again, to support its own development, but also to support the security and prosperity of the region.

And for that reason, we’ve offered strong support to Vietnam’s vaccine rollout. We have been very proud to commit 7.8 million doses of vaccine to Vietnam, as well as AUD$60 million [US$43.4 million] worth of support for the vaccine rollout.

What do you think about the bilateral economic cooperation between Vietnam and Australia in 2022?

We certainly see economic recovery as central to the state of the bilateral relationship going forward. We are working closely with Vietnam to build our trade and commercial interests.

To help achieve this, we have signed a new Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy, which is specifically designed to strengthen our economic and commercial ties. And it focuses on a number of key sectors, which will help us move the relationship forward.

We do see the prospects for the growth of our commercial relationship as bright for the future. There is so much potential in Vietnam and in Australia to strengthen our engagement in many sectors of commercial engagement, from manufacturing to agribusiness, to services, to education. We have a lot to work with.

Vietnam and Australia have set the goal to double two-way investment and to become among the top ten trading partners of each other. Do you think this is a challenging goal?

I guess the first thing to say is that any goals are challenging, and we set goals so that we can work hard to achieve them to become the top 10 trade partners and double investment. They are ambitious goals, but we feel confident that we can head steadily towards them.

And so to that end, we have the Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy, which is a very practical document and is underpinned by a number of initiatives. The strategy will help Australian and Vietnamese companies work together much more closely, and help to address challenges and to highlight opportunities to strengthen our economic engagement.

The sectors that we are focusing on are very varied, but we seem to have great potential in all of them. So, as I mentioned earlier, they are agriculture, education, services, including financial services, manufacturing, and the digital economy.

These are all very forward-looking areas in the economic relationship. Because we see Vietnam’s development as very forward leaning, very global, and very modern, we want to work with Vietnam in those areas to make sure that Vietnam’s development continues towards the future as strongly as possible.

As the relationship will continue to become stronger and deeper economically, I feel very confident that those goals will drive us forward to an even better relationship.

Vietnam and Australia are both partners and members of different free trade agreements (FTAs), such as the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANFTA), the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Do you think it can impact bilateral trade?

Our FTAs are really important planks of economic engagement with Vietnam because they identify challenges and they also provide a clear structure for the way that our economies can engage. They bring tangible benefits as they are implemented, opening up market access, clarifying our opportunities, and helping to drive our economic engagement forward.

Importantly, for businesses engaging in the relationship, FTAs provide a clear pathway for how these businesses can enter a market and operate within it.

A reporter of Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper (left) and Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie (right) perform a fist bump during an exclusive interview with Tuoi Tre News in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, February 21, 2022. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

A Tuoi Tre News reporter (left) and Australian Ambassador to Vietnam Robyn Mudie perform a fist bump during an exclusive interview in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, February 21, 2022. Photo: Quang Dinh / Tuoi Tre

So, as a complement to our bilateral engagement, they are very, very important. And the fact that we have so many of them is also important because the FTAs intersect, address different parts of our economic engagement, and then mutually reinforce.

So we see this being part of the regional economic architecture is a very important element of our engagement with Vietnam. And, of course, having a series of FTAs helps to strengthen the rules-based trading system in the region.

We can only have strong sustainable economic engagement and development and prosperity in the region if it is based on strong rules which are based on trading order. We see this as a very important underpinning to our strong, healthy economic engagement with Vietnam.

How can we enhance these FTAs’ effectiveness in promoting our bilateral trade?

Well, I think that the key thing about any trade agreement is making sure that businesses on both sides of the relationship are fully aware of what these agreements mean, what benefits they bring, and that they know how to access these agreements and apply them to their own business.

So I guess one of the challenges that we have seen in the past is Australian businesses, and Vietnamese businesses, not being fully aware of some of the regulations in the regulatory environment that govern trade.

We have to make sure that they have that visibility. Creating that understanding is a very important role that the Australian government and the Vietnamese government can play. We need to make sure that we fully educate our businesses so that they understand the benefits and can apply them.

I think perhaps one of the challenges that we have faced and we’ll continue to address is a lack of clear understanding.

Ho Chi Minh City is a central part of Australian strategy

According to Ambassador Mudie, Ho Chi Minh City plays a central role as an engine room of growth in the country.

“We know that we have to work very closely with Ho Chi Minh City and with the private sector here as well as government agencies,” she told Tuoi Tre News.

“And that’s one of the reasons that I am so pleased to be down here for another visit to continue to build those business engagements, and also to talk to the government and other bodies about how we see the relationship going forward.”

Vietnam-Australia trade hits record high

Vietnam’s trade with Australia hit a record high of $12.4 billion for the first time in 2021, marking a rise of nearly 50 percent compared to 2020, according to the Vietnam News Agency.

The Southeast Asian country’s exports to Australia reached $4.45 billion, up 23 percent, while its imports stood at around $7.95 billion, a 70-percent spike.

With this trade volume, Vietnam duly became Australia’s 12th-largest trading partner, whilst Australia was the country’s 10th biggest.

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