Conference to promote Bến Tre's exports to Islamic countries

October 21, 2022 - 08:40
Bến Tre is the 'land of coconuts' with an output of 550 million fruits per year. It is also the home of many other agricultural and aquacultural products that have made their way to demanding markets.
Minister Bùi Thanh Sơn, Ambassador Saadi Salama and other participants visit an exhibition booth at the conference on Wednesday. — VNA/VNS Photo

HÀ NỘI — Islamic countries are a huge potential market for Vietnamese agricultural and aquacultural products as they have a goods and services expense of US$2 trillion in 2021, a figure that grows by 7.5 per cent annually, Minister of Foreign Affairs Bùi Thanh Sơn said.

Sơn was speaking at the conference "Promoting export of agricultural and aquacultural products of Bến Tre Province to Islamic countries" on Wednesday.

The minister said Bến Tre is the 'land of coconuts' with an output of 550 million fruits per year. It is also the home of many other agricultural and aquacultural products that have made their way to demanding markets, including the US.

Unfortunately, the province has not unlocked the full potential of its exports to Muslim parts of the world because of the geographic distance between the two partners, the COVID-19 pandemic and the lack of communication among firms.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Vietnamese representative agencies abroad will organise more economic diplomacy and trade promotion events to support Bến Tre and other provinces in their economic ties with foreign partners," he said.

Lê Đức Thọ, secretary of the Bến Tre Province's Party's Committee, estimated his provincial exports at $6.53 billion between 2016 and 2021, of which $154 million went to Islamic countries.

"Provincial exports are projected to top $1.5 billion this year, up 20 per cent year-on-year. However, exports to Islamic countries are expected to reach just $35 million", he said.

He believes that room for exports is still ample as the province has five products protected by Geographical Indications; grapefruit, coconut, durian, prawn and crab.

Coconut-derived products have gained ground in many high-end markets, such as the US and Japan. Clams, meanwhile, have been MSC-certified by the Marine Stewardship Council.

"Bến Tre is the first clam-growing area in Southeast Asia to obtain such qualification," he added.

He underscored the conference as a good opportunity for firms to understand Islamic markets better and expand their commercial presence in the region.

Nguyễn Mạnh Tuấn, Việt Nam's Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), estimated that trade between Việt Nam and UAE hit over $6 billion in 2019.

He said Vietnamese firms have difficulties doing business in the country because they lack well-established distribution channels and pay little attention to brand-building.

"Firms export predominantly raw products. That's why they export a lot, but few can make it to supermarkets," he said.

To help firms expand their commercial footprints in UAE, his embassy aims to promote Vietnamese products on all channels, with supermarkets being the top priority. He said firms if left to their own devices, would be unable to get a niche in such a tough channel.

He called on Bến Tre Province to conduct intensive market research to gain deeper insight into the market, especially regarding culture, religion and legal systems.

Mohammed Ismaeil A. Dahlwy, Saudi Arabia's Ambassador to Việt Nam, stressed that the two nations have strong economic relations, demonstrated by a bilateral trade exceeding $2 billion in 2021.

He said Việt Nam has plenty of opportunities for higher trade with Saudi Arabia in the future since the latter has an appetite for tropical agricultural products, of which the former is a significant producer.

"We have an up-and-coming platform, the Saudi-Việt Nam joint committee, that will be held in the first quarter of next year. The platform will push the bilateral trade toward closer cooperation," he added.

He also said it is essential for Vietnamese agricultural products to meet Halal standards because Halal holds the key to penetrating Islamic markets.

Amal Abdel Kader Elmorsi Salama, Egypt's Ambassador to Việt Nam, underscored that Islamic countries are a vast market for Vietnamese products. Remarkably, Vietnamese exports to Africa alone surpassed $2.2 billion in 2021.

Meanwhile, Việt Nam-Egypt trade reached nearly $600 million last year and is expected to grow higher in the short term.

"Our goal, according to the instruction of our leaders, is to realise $1 billion of the annual trade volume in the coming few years," she said.

She also stressed the importance of Halal certificates, which is essential for Vietnamese products to access Islamic markets. She said Egypt is considering proposals to provide training for Vietnamese experts in this regard.

Samina Mehtab, Pakistan's Ambassador to Việt Nam, revealed that Pakistan has only local laws for agricultural and aquacultural products, which are common practices everywhere in the world.

"These laws treat local enterprises and foreign exporters on par when it comes to compliance with health and safety regulations," she said.

She said Pakistan's Halal certification and local language labelling requirements had been in place since July 2019 for food exporters. Any change to the laws or food safety rules will be made available within 24 hours on Pakistan's Ministry of Commerce website.

Ali Akbar Nazari, Iran's Ambassador to Việt Nam, asserted that Iran imports around $600 million of tropical fruits annually, of which coconut is among the most popular.

"Coconut meat is used all year round and all over Iran," he said.

For Bến Tre's firms to establish long-term ties with Iranian counterparts, he called for better connection among the partners through trade fairs, exhibitions, seminars and trade programmes.

Saadi Salama, Palestine's Ambassador to Việt Nam, urged Vietnamese firms to change their business mindset to build trust in trade relations.

"'Guerilla mindset' can work in war but not so in business," he said.

He believed Bến Tre's fruits would easily enter Islamic countries because the countries are unable to grow the fruits domestically. — VNS