|Canadian Ambassador Shawn Steil__Photo: VNA
Vietnam and Canada concluded a vibrant year filled with a multitude of activities to commemorate the 50th anniversary of their diplomatic ties (1973-2023). On the occasion of the New Year 2024, the Vietnam News Agency held an interview with Ambassador of Canada to Vietnam Shawn Steil, discussing achievements in bilateral relations and the prospects for future cooperation between the two countries.
The following is the full text of the interview.
Reporter: 2023 marks the 50th anniversary of Canada-Vietnam diplomatic relations. Over the past half a century, the two countries have recorded significant achievements in various aspects. What are your thoughts on the potential for further cooperation in the years to come?
Ambassador Shawn Steil: It is the beginning of the new year. It's an exciting time to think ahead of what we can do more. But it's also important to acknowledge the foundation on which we built and on which we go forward.
And as you rightly suggest, 2023 was the year we marked 50 years of diplomatic relations. Canada is very proud of its contributions and support to Vietnam's remarkable development over more than 50 years. But particularly over the last 50 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations, we've seen a deepening and broadening of the relationship in all aspects.
In fact, in 2017, our leaders marked the establishment of a comprehensive partnership, identifying a full range of areas where we should work further. So if we look at back from that period 2017 until now, you can see that we've really progressed in all areas into a really broad and comprehensive partnership, in trade, in politics, in defense and security, in science and innovation, in education and in people-to-people exchanges.
Across all of those fields, despite the pandemic that affected all countries from 2020, we've seen remarkable growth in the relationship. Moving forward on this foundation, I think it's time for us to start to look at how the relationship between Canada and Vietnam, as strong as it is bilaterally, can now be a positive force for change in the world. We are two countries that see eye to eye on many global issues. But we need to deepen our understanding of our positions on those global issues and find areas where we can actually cooperate for positive change in international relations.
Reporter: Vietnam is currently Canada’s largest trading partner in ASEAN and a top destination for Canadian products. Given the challenges in the global economy, how do you view Vietnam’s economic recovery? What measures do you think both nations should take to promote trade and investment relations?
Ambassador Shawn Steil: Yes, this is a pivotal time for global trade, and for economic development in Vietnam and around the world. So now is the time to make sure that we are not relying on the things that have been working up to now, but that we are actually looking forward to how do we can push things further.
So you are right, Canada and Vietnam's trade has seen remarkable growth, 20 to 30 percent in some areas in two way exports. We've seen because of the CPTPP, our multilateral free trade agreement that borders have been opened and trade has increased across the border, most of the trade is still Vietnamese exports to Canada. And we are proud that Canada is now in the top 10 purchasers of Vietnamese products globally. That's a remarkable achievement. We would like to see more growth in Canadian exports. And as incomes are growing in Vietnam, I expect that is going to take care of itself.
We already see really good growth and high quality food products being exported from Canada to Vietnam, as Vietnamese consumers are looking for high quality, safe, nutritious foods. Canadians are supplying that food, so the growth is there. But we need to continue to push and promote exports from Canada to make sure that we're keeping pace with the growth of the Vietnamese economy.
Investment is another area of strength. Canada is around the 14th largest investor in Vietnam, but that has remained relatively stable over time. We need to see more breakthrough in the opportunities for us to build supply chains, value chains, not just trading goods, but actually participating as equal partners in supplying the globe with products, technology and other services. We need to partner more closely with each other on that, including through investment.
What Canadian companies are really looking for in investing in Vietnam is stability, transparency, and an understandable regulatory framework. So we continue to work with the Vietnamese Government to ensure that the needs of Canadian investors are sustained over time.
Reporter: How can Vietnam and Canada work together to promote sustainable development and prosperity in line with Canada’s Indo-Pacific Strategy, which focuses on building a sustainable green future?
Ambassador Shawn Steil: This is a key question for everyone. Canada's focus on a green and sustainable future in the Indo Pacific region is recognition that high rates of growth in this part of the world also come with risks. And those risks are around ensuring that everyone benefits from economic growth and that the environment is not harmed.
So Vietnam has a challenge now with its remarkable economic growth to ensure that it is sustainable environmentally, socially through the long term. And Canada is a partner for Vietnam and supporting the transition to clean energy for example.
Few countries have the growth in energy demand that Vietnam does, estimated at 10 percent a year at least. So in order to meet that energy demand, we think it is strategic moment for Vietnam to invest in clean sources, and renewable sources of energy. But that requires remarkable investments, it requires a regulatory environment, and it requires technology. All of this Canada has experience with. So we are working through our development assistance and our advocacy to ensure that Vietnam has access to world class technology, expertise, and finally investment.
As Vietnam grows, less of the investment is going to come from official development assistance, and more is going to be coming from international loans and even concessional finance. But taking on debt has its own risks. And so we want to work with Vietnamese Government to ensure that Vietnam is comfortable with taking on the risks of loans to ensure that it can invest in a sustainable future.
Reporter: In terms of external affairs, 2023 is believed to be a highly successful year for Vietnam. We would like to hear your perspective on this. How do you assess the country’s achievements in external affairs during the year?
Ambassador Shawn Steil: What a year for Vietnam in 2023. First we have to state the obvious (that Vietnam was) the only country in the world to host presidential visits from the world's two superpowers, the United States and China. That in itself I think is a sign of the attention that Vietnam is attracting from around the world.
I think we’ve also seen that success through economic development and investment. Investors are looking to Vietnam as a safe haven for investment in an era of turbulence globally, both economically and in terms of security issues.
Vietnam is seen as a reliable partner and that is a precious asset for Vietnam, that the country has successfully exploited for its own benefit over the last year. Vietnam's membership on the United Nations Human Rights Council is another major achievement.
But with all of this attention, comes also responsibility. And so Canada, for example, is hoping that Vietnam will not forget its other partners who are not superpowers such as Canada and look forward to a future of engaging with us on issues such as international rules and the rules-based international order.
We find that superpowers do have the tendency to sometimes ignore international law. Countries like Canada and Vietnam depend on consistent application of international law to secure our sovereignty and our prosperity and our security. So Canada sees Vietnam as a valuable partner in bolstering international law and respect for the rules internationally, and partnering on that as we move forward.
Clearly, Vietnam has integrated very fully into the international system, and is seeing the benefits of that integration for its own people. Now we want to partner with Vietnam to ensure that those benefits remain sustainable well into the future.
Reporter: As the Lunar New Year (Tet) holiday is approaching, what are your thoughts and experiences as a foreigner living and working in Vietnam during this festive period? Do you and the embassy have any plans to celebrate the New Year of 2024 in Vietnam and participate in Tet festivities?
Ambassador Shawn Steil: You can see the smile that comes on my face whenever I started thinking about Tet. And I have been lucky to experience Ted already as ambassador here in Hanoi.
Personally, I love to stay in Hanoi and experience all of the dynamic atmosphere on the streets of Hanoi and not travel outside of Vietnam because I find that Tet is such a special time that I want to experience it right here in the country.
One of my highlights of the year is hosting our Tet party for all of the embassy staff and their families. And we are blessed here at the embassy to have a family with many small children, all the way from children under the age of one to teenagers and young adults.
And so when we come together as an embassy community, our Canadian diplomats here with their families, as well as our Vietnamese colleagues, with their families, as one community to celebrate Tet, it really is the highlight of the year for me.
And I look forward to presenting Tet gifts to the children and experiencing their joy that comes with this really magical time of year.
So allow me to take this opportunity to wish to all of your viewers a very happy Tet this year. “Chuc Mung Nam Moi”.
Reporter: Thank you for the interview.-(VNA/VLLF)