During his visit to Vietnam, Simon McDonald, Permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office of the UK, held an exclusive discussion with Tuoi Tre News on the two countries’ cooperative efforts in the context of Brexit, the nickname given to Britain leaving the European Union.
The top British diplomat emphasized that Brexit has opened the UK’s doors to the world and created an opportunity for an enhanced Vietnam – UK relationship.
The conversation below has been edited for cohesion, clarity, and concision.
The CPTPP interest
We’ve heard that London has shown “real interest” in the TPP and may want to join this pact after Brexit. Does the United Kingdom see the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), as a real opportunity?
The United Kingdom has to reconsider its trade connections around the whole world. For the last 45 years our main focus has been on Europe. That will clearly change as we leave the European Union. But new relations and new connections are still under discussion, so the CPTPP is of very great interest and the ministers are actively looking at this, but we are not in the position to make any formal announcement yet.
Not only the UK, other countries such as South Korea, Thailand and Indonesia are also exploring the deal. What makes CPTPP attractive without the United States?
Of course the TPP with the U.S. was an enormous trading possibility. What interests me is that when the U.S. dropped out, the TPP did not fall apart because the eleven other countries are still a very big block. Encouraged particularly by the Japanese, the eleven have kept together and now have arranged the CPTPP. It is launched and is being ratified. We expect it to come into force at the end of this year or the beginning of 2019. There is still quite a lot to do before an announcement is made. What I can say to you today is that we are very interested in this.
If not the CPTPP, is the UK going to boost trade with Southeast Asian countries?
Absolutely, with both ASEAN and with individual countries so that we can have bilateral free trade agreements all over the world. We have a whole department, the Department of international trade, in London which was set up in 2016 and their whole focus is on new trade agreements.
Smart city development
This year marks the 45th anniversary of the Vietnam-UK diplomatic relationship. Will the UK have a specific policy to support Vietnam during this year and in the future?
We’re building the relationship all the time. For the 45th anniversary, I think we can expect some high level contacts in the second part of the year, so we hope for some very senior visitors from Hanoi to London later in the year. We’re also rolling out some of our prosperity programs between the UK and Vietnam in economic reform, healthcare, and smart city development.
I’ve just arrived in Ho Chi Minh City and one thing I know is that you are building enormous new buildings so I think they can have forty tower blocks all in one district in Ho Chi Minh City. How you integrate the huge new development into a wider city is the challenge for the infrastructure, services, water, electricity, and transport. The UK has good experience in managing big and growing cities, so this is one of the areas I hope that the UK can offer consultancies and advisors.
One of the important parts of developing smart cities is renewable energy. Renewable energy is taking off all around the world. I know Vietnam already has a lot of renewable energy in its mix - thirty two percent is hydra - but this percentage can grow.
Over the last two years in the United Kingdom we have moved from 40 percent coal power in 2012 to 7 percent currently. Vietnam still has a lot of coal in its mix, I think that is an area worth looking at as coal is a very polluting energy. The UK will absolutely share with Vietnam its experience of changing from coal to renewable energy. The whole point of a collaborative relation is each side can benefit from the lessons the other has learned.
There are many Vietnamese students studying in The UK. Will the UK offer stronger assistance to Vietnamese students studying in the country?
We already have many thousands of Vietnamese students in the UK and I heard that the number is growing very rapidly so we are very pleased about that. We’re also pleased about the joint-degree programs, so a Vietnamese student does not need to travel to the UK to benefit from UK education. We now have forty five of these joint-degree programs. Also the British government directly sponsors scholarship for the very best Vietnamese students, including the Chevening scholarships, and the program has grown rapidly in recent years.
UK – Vietnam trade increases 250 percent
Speaking at the EIC (Energy Industries Council) Connect - Energy Vietnam 2018 in Ho Chi Minh City on May 17, Permanent Under Secretary of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Simon McDonald said the two countries have collaborated fir a long time and upgraded their relations into strategic partnership since 2010.
Trade between Vietnam and the UK has increased approximately 250 percent during the past eight years, he added.
According to McDonald, the cooperation potential is still high, especially in the energy sector, which is considered as a big opportunity over the next 20 years.
The EIC Connect - Energy Vietnam 2018, organized by the British Consulate General, EIC, Petrol Vietnam (PVN) and EVN, hosted 50 business companies with around 100 delegates from all around the UK.