Imports make Vietnam valued

Cate RocchiThe West Australian

Vietnam - spurred on by increasing demand for beef and wheat - is now the third-biggest importer of agricultural products from WA, according to its Perth-based consul-general Le Viet Duyen.

The biggest importer is China, followed by Japan, while Vietnam has recently surpassed South Korea.

Mr Le, who moved to Perth in 2012 to oversee the establishment of the Vietnamese consulate in the city, says his door is open and local agribusiness operations are able to contact him to explore opportunities.

He said the past two years had been very busy, but also exciting.

"The relationship between Vietnam and WA has increased tremendously and there is a greater understanding between the State and the country," Mr Le said.

He said trade turnover in 2012 between Vietnam and WA was about $700 million. In 2014 that nearly doubled to $1.15 billion, according to the Department of State Development in WA.

"We take lots of products from WA which West Australians should be proud of," he said.

"I believe Vietnam imported $320 million worth of WA wheat and barley in 2014."

Much of that went to make noodles and beer.

Mr Le said Vietnam was the third-largest noodle and beer consumer in Asia.

He said Vietnam and WA had complementary economies -- the country produced goods WA needed, such as tea and coffee, electronics, televisions and mobile phones, while WA supplied vital commodities.

Trade relations were also strengthened by shared time zones.

Furthermore, Mr Le said Vietnam Airlines had recently sent a delegation to explore the possibility of direct flights between Perth and Vietnam.

Mr Le said his job was to promote interaction between WA and Vietnamese businesses.

He said people-to-people relations were increasing and the trade was growing.

In 2013, Perth International Airport recorded 72,000 West Australians visiting Vietnam, while 6000 Vietnamese visited WA.

Local Vietnamese student numbers are now about 2000 and rising and there are calls for the WA Government to establish an official trade office in Vietnam.

"Definitely, I think that will help a lot," Mr Le said.

He said from his experience over the past two years, information sharing between businesses and government boosted positive tourism and business outcomes.

The more people-to-people exchanges, the more trade occurred, Mr Le said.

"I think that would depend on strategic calculations of the State Government," he said.

"But, from a Vietnamese perspective, I believe more interactions will result in more business and more trade between the two."

Mr Le said there was a cultural frankness on both sides that made friendships easy and both nations were also practical in character.

"I enjoy every single minute of interaction with people - we are so similar and it is easy to understand each other and strike the friendships," he said.

"For trade, the profit is important but for Vietnamese people the relationship is also important."

Mr Le said a harmonious association between the buyer and seller had to be developed over time.

Australia's live cattle trade with the country has shot up.

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade said that in 2012-13 Vietnam was Australia's 10th-largest export market, valued at $12 million and representing 2 per cent of trade.

In 2013-14, Vietnam jumped to Australia's third-largest export market, valued at $125 million and representing 12 per cent of trade - a year-on-year increase of 952 per cent.

Mr Le believes 180,000 live cattle were exported from Australia to Vietnam in 2014.

Like much of Asia, rising numbers in the middle classes were demanding more beef - the country's national noodle soup dish, pho, often uses beef as its base.

There are 22 million Vietnamese who are classified as middle class and, every year, two million more people join that sector.

So Mr Le said, logically, the demand for beef had increased.

"Now they take mostly Brahman beef but, I believe in the next few years, they will change their tastes as well," he said.

This could include a greater demand for higher priced cattle breeds such as Angus.

Mr Le said Australia had a good reputation for hygiene and quality. He is spending time travelling around WA and recently enjoyed a visit to an Esperance farming family.

Mr Le said he would do his best to support WA farmers and agribusiness operations looking to trade with Vietnam.

There is also a Vietnamese consulate in Sydney, complementing the embassy in Canberra. About six staff are based in the Perth CBD consulate.

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