Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Việt Nam Shirel Levi
The co-operative relations between Israel and Việt Nam are growing strong in all spheres, with the two countries currently negotiating the official signing of a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA). It is one of the items discussed by Deputy Ambassador of Israel to Việt Nam, Shirel Levi, in a recent interview with Việt Nam News reporter Nguyễn Linh Anh.
What is your opinion on the economic relationship between Việt Nam and Israel?
Việt Nam’s economy is very strong and the country has a big market, which it's very appealing to Israelis. In 2019, our trade turnover is some US$1.1 billion, which is quite good. But there's still a lot of improvement that we can do. Currently we import mostly food products from Việt Nam like fish, tuna, chili and exotic fruits, dried fruits, besides mobile phones. And on the other hand, Việt Nam imports from Israel electronics, machinery, computers, technologies and services. This is how we trade at the moment. And the best part of it is that we're not competing with each other. Our trade relations are complimentary. When Việt Nam purchases technologies from Israel, eventually it will improve the quantity and the quality of its production so it is definitely a win-win situation for both sides.
In what areas are Israeli businesses investing in Việt Nam? Do they need policy support from Vietnamese Government?
There are many Israeli business delegations coming here. We have invested a lot in agriculture, for example drip irrigation systems, in tourism and we also have some factories here that produce food products for Israel. Israeli businesses are increasingly interested in investment in Việt Nam and they always keep asking for more support to get access to the Vietnamese market, for example they want to directly import food and textiles from here. But I think that the best policy that the government can help with right now is to approve as fast as possible the FTA agreement. This would be the best push for our economic relations.
Việt Nam and Israel are in process of FTA negotiations. How will this deal foster trade relations between the two countries? Any predictions for the growth in bilateral trade after one year of signing?
Việt Nam has signed many FTAs and recently has ratified the FTA with the EU, which is a very good strategy, I think, to expand in the global market. Việt Nam and Israel conducted the ninth round of negotiations in June, which was conducted online for the first time. We really hope that we could sign the agreement in the near future, if not by the end of this year, then hopefully by the beginning of next year.
We expect to increase our bilateral trade from the signing of this FTA. According to some estimates, two-way trade can increase by 50 per cent after the first year of signing, and go up by 100 per cent after the second year. There is also an estimate saying that eventually we will get to a turnover $3 billion, but it may take some time. So this is what we are expecting now.
Now Việt Nam is enjoying a trade surplus in trade relationship with Israel. What we can do to boost the exports from Israel to Việt Nam
When we say there is a trade surplus for Việt Nam, it's not necessarily a bad thing for us because once we import things from Việt Nam, it makes everything cheaper for our Israeli consumers. But of course, we do hope that Viêt Nam also import more from us, but I think what is important it's not the quantity being imported but rather what is being imported. So once you purchase more expensive technologies and electronics from Israel, then trade will naturally balance out eventually.
Israel is now called a “Start-up Nation” with an established start-up community. Việt Nam also wishes to nurture entrepreneurship spirit. In what areas do you think Israel startups can share experience with Việt Nam? Is there some potential co-operation between start-up communities of the two sides?
We do enjoy the nickname “Start-up Nation” and we're very proud of it. We've earned it through hard work, and something we call the Israeli spirit, which is what we also try to share with our Vietnamese friends. We are always happy to share our knowledge with you in order to give the startup ecosystem a push here in Việt Nam.
We have had many exchanges of delegations, we have Israeli experts coming here and giving advices to the relevant bodies. We have both the private sector and the government pushing towards this kind of co-operation, very eager to learn and supportive. I like to share about the Israeli spirit, that is being very creative and curious to find solutions to problems, and having this “can do” attitude and not being afraid of failure. That is something which characterises us. Moreover, when Israel was established, we had a real necessity because of our harsh climate and the political situation at the time, we had to face many challenges and evolve very quickly and develop all kinds of solutions. All these things that characterise us, we can also recognise here in Việt Nam. We see a lot of potential, especially among the young people, they are very eager to learn. They're hard working, I see that my Vietnamese friends all have the same type of curiosity and creativity.
And despite all the things that we are doing at the moment, we also have a long term plan to co-operate in terms of innovation. So we are working now on having a mutual accelerator project in HCM City. It means taking a team of Vietnamese youths or young entrepreneurs and bring them together with the Israeli start-up team. And together they try to find a solution for a problem that arose from a Vietnamese company or industry. And then they brainstorm together throughout a period of time, and eventually they come up with the solution. This creates a lot of networking and exchange of ideas.
Can you elaborate Israel’s look-east policy? How will this policy promote trade co-operation between Israel and Việt Nam?
I think not only Israel but many other countries in the world see now the importance of Asia. Like Việt Nam, Israel is always looking to expand its international relations. And Asia is one of those places, it has a growing economic importance, and especially Việt Nam. We can see in the times of COVID-19, Việt Nam is still the strongest, still growing, despite a little setback, it is still the fastest growing now in Southeast Asia. It’s another aspect of why Israel should have an interest and has an interest in economic relations here. We’ve also had many exchanges of visits with leaders from Asian countries. So I think the interest is on both sides. And there's still a lot of potential to realise, in these relations.
Through this economic co-operation, innovation co-operation and eventually signing the FTA agreement, we can increase the potential of our relations and bring our two countries closer together more than ever before, and it will be a meaningful upgrade to our relations. — VNS