Vietnam country brief
Australia and Vietnam are strong partners with shared strategic interests in maintaining peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific region based on international law. This is complemented by our bilateral trading relationship, which has been one of Australia's fastest-growing in recent years; our expanding educational and innovation links; and Australia's role as a long-term, constructive development partner. Looking beyond differences in our political systems, the relationship has matured into one of our most important in the region.
On 15 March 2018, Australia and Vietnam officially elevated relations by signing a Joint Statement on the Establishment of a Strategic Partnership between Australia and Vietnam in Canberra. During Prime Minister Scott Morrison's official visit to Vietnam in August 2019, Australia and Vietnam agreed that the Plan of Action for the Strategic Partnership for the period of 2020-2023 would focus on three priority areas: enhancing economic engagement; deepening strategic, defence and security cooperation; and building knowledge and innovation partnerships.
A strong program of two-way visits and dialogues has strengthened relations at senior levels.
Enhancing economic engagement
Vietnam has one of the fastest growing economies in the region, driven by export-oriented manufacturing, foreign direct investment and increasingly strong domestic demand. Vietnam's economy grew by 7.0 per cent in 2019 from a decade-high 7.1 per cent in 2018. While Vietnam's economy is likely to perform better than others in the region in the near-term, the COVID-19 pandemic will slow economic expansion. The National Assembly continues to endorse Vietnam's pre-COVID growth target for 2020 of 6.8 per cent, but this will be difficult to achieve given global economic uncertainty. The International Monetary Fund and World Bank are predicting 2.47 and 2.8 per cent for Vietnam's 2020 GDP growth.
Vietnam is committed to global economic integration and trade liberalisation through participation in APEC (which it hosted in 2017), the ASEAN Free Trade Area, the WTO and a growing network of free trade agreements, including the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Area (AANZFTA). It signed the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which entered into force for Vietnam on 14 January 2019, and is in Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) negotiations. In December 2013, Vietnam became the 20th member of the Cairns Group.
Australia's total two-way trade with Vietnam in 2019 was valued at $15.5 billion (6.3 per cent goods and services growth in 2019). Vietnam is Australia's fourteenth largest trading partner (2019) and Australia is estimated to be Vietnam's fourteenth largest trading partner (2018). Total two-way goods trade for 2019 was $12.2 billion. Total two-way services trade for 2019 was $3.4 billion.
Vietnam's strong economic growth, a shift towards a more market-based economy, and expanding middle-class have increased demand for imported goods, creating significant opportunities for Australian exporters of energy, dairy, meat, consumer goods, wheat and grains, machinery, and professional services.
The same trends have increased Vietnam's demand for education and training services. The need for training in areas such as English language, business and management, and information technology remains high, especially in the major urban centres.
Australian companies are generally well-received in Vietnam. Australian education, agriculture and food exports all have a strong reputation in Vietnam. More broadly, Australia is regarded as a modern, technologically advanced, and friendly country located within Vietnam's immediate sphere of interest. Long-term trade and investment opportunities should increase in line with Vietnam's progress in implementing its trade commitments and administrative reform program.
In August 2019, the Australia and Vietnamese Prime Ministers agreed to develop an Enhanced Economic Engagement Strategy, with the aim of becoming top ten trade partners and doubling bilateral investment. The Strategy will solidify a shared commitment to trade liberalisation and economic connectivity, and help both countries take advantage of emerging market opportunities and will include post COVID-19 economic recovery recommendations.
For more information on specific export opportunities in Vietnam, or more information on export assistance, visit the Austrade website.
Deepening strategic, defence and security cooperation
Formal defence relations between Australia and Vietnam were established in February 1998, with the opening of a Defence Attaché Office at the Australian Embassy in Hanoi in 1999. Vietnam's first Defence Attaché to Australia commenced in September 2000.
Our Defence Cooperation Program ($3.1 million in 2019-20) focuses on: peacekeeping, including cooperation on Women Peace and Security and support for Vietnam's deployment to the UN Mission to South Sudan; training and education, including English language training; counter-terrorism cooperation; maritime security, including annual ship visits; and military medicine. Australia also cooperates closely with Vietnam in the ASEAN Regional Forum and ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting-Plus.
Defence and security links continue to grow. In October 2010, Australia and Vietnam signed a bilateral MoU on Defence Cooperation at the inaugural ASEAN Defence Ministers' Meeting Plus held in Hanoi. Defence Ministers also signed a Joint Vision Statement on Further Defence Cooperation in 2018, which bolstered our defence ties. The first meeting between Australian and Vietnamese Defence Ministers was held in Canberra on 19 March 2013. The latest meeting was held in February 2020 in Hanoi. The inaugural Defence High Level Meeting, scheduled to take place in 2020, will see Defence Ministers meeting on an annual basis.
Since 2012, an annual joint Foreign Affairs and Defence Australia-Vietnam Strategic Dialogue has been held at Deputy-Secretary/Vice-Minister level. Australia hosted the seventh round of the Dialogue in December 2019. Australia and Vietnam also conduct annual Australia-Vietnam Defence Cooperation Talks, a Defence Policy Dialogue, and a 1.5 Track Dialogue. Since 2018, Australia and Vietnam have held an annual security dialogue at the Deputy Secretary/Vice-Minister level.
Australia has a longstanding relationship with Vietnam on immigration, border security and law enforcement cooperation. Australia and Vietnam have enhanced coordination on operations across all transnational crime types, including child exploitation, money laundering and narcotics. We also cooperate to prevent and deter people smuggling and address the challenges of irregular migration and civil maritime security.
The Australian Federal Police has had a presence in Vietnam for over 20 years and maintains Law Enforcement Offices in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. The AFP and Vietnam's Ministry of Public Security (MPS) maintain the Joint Transnational Crime Centre (JTCC) in HCMC.
Australia, in partnership with the MPS and RMIT University, deliver the Asia Region Law Enforcement Management Program (Australian Federal Police) and the Border Control and Management Program (Australian Department of Home Affairs). These programs strengthen regional cooperation among relevant agencies.
Building knowledge and innovation partnerships
Australia is a leading education destination for Vietnamese students, with 26,050 Vietnamese students in Australia in 2019. Vietnam is Australia's fifth largest source of foreign students.
Australia collaborates on many education and training initiatives with Vietnam, including in quality assurance, qualification recognition and vocational education; facilitating institution-to-institution partnerships; and supporting vibrant Australian alumni associations.
The Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in Education and Training with the Ministry of Education and Training (MOET), first signed in 1994, was renewed in October 2013. Under the auspices of the MoU, there is a Joint Working Group on Education and Training.
Vietnam is a popular destination for New Colombo Plan (NCP) students, with 3,612 students awarded NCP opportunities in Vietnam since 2014 (comprising 3,602 mobility students and 10 scholars) deepening their knowledge of the country, its culture and ways of doing business. Further information is available at the New Colombo Plan website.
To further strengthen collaboration in knowledge and innovation, Australia and Vietnam have agreed to establish a Vietnam-Australia Centre at the Ho Chi Minh National Academy of Politics in Hanoi. The Centre will draw on Australian expertise to support Vietnam's future leadership, while enabling Vietnam and Australia to pursue solutions to shared national and regional challenges and deepen people-to-people and institutional links. It will bring together influential Vietnamese and Australian leaders, government officials, experts and academics.
Through the Aus4Innovation Program, Australia and Vietnam are together exploring emerging areas of technology and digital transformation, trialling new models for partnerships between public and private sector institutions, and strengthening Vietnamese capability in digital foresight, scenario planning, commercialisation, and innovation policy. Aus4Innovation is a collaboration between the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, CSIRO and Vietnam's Ministry of Science and Technology. It is funded through Australia's aid program to Vietnam.
The Australian Government is a partner of the Australia-Vietnam Young Leadership Dialogue, which seeks to "facilitate deeper understanding and collaboration between Australian and Vietnamese young leaders to enhance the economic, social and cultural prosperity of Australia and Vietnam."
People to people links
Australian and Vietnamese links continue to grow through tourism, business, education and volunteering. Vietnam is Australia's 11th most popular short-term destination. In the year ended March 2020, 311,400 Australian residents returned from Vietnam, a decrease of 2.6 per cent on the previous year and a five-year average annual growth of 6.9 per cent. At the 2016 Census Vietnamese was the fifth most common language spoken at home in Australia (1.2 per cent of the total population).
Human rights cooperation
Australia regularly discusses human rights with Vietnam.
Australia and Vietnam have regularly held formal human rights talks since 2002. The sixteenth Australia-Vietnam Human Rights Dialogue took place on 29 August 2019 in Canberra.
Australia's delegation typically includes representatives from the Australian Human Rights Commission, and senior officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and relevant Australian Government agencies.
The Human Rights Dialogue facilitates frank discussion about key human rights issues, including: freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of information in Vietnam; specific cases of concern; the severity of sentencing for democracy activists; and Australia's opposition to the death penalty. The rights of political prisoners and the treatment of activists have also been key areas of discussion.
Australia has welcomed improvements in some areas and encouraged implementation of these gains, particularly in relation to legal reforms, gender equality, and rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons.
Through the Australian Human Rights Commission, the Australian Government provides capacity-building support to the Vietnamese Government on human rights focused on human rights education and responsible business conduct.
Australia also plays a constructive role at the UN Human Rights Council through Vietnam's Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The UPR provides a forum for constructive discussion of human rights situations in all UN member states, including Vietnam, and identifies practical steps to address specific human rights concerns.
Australia was an active participant during Vietnam's UPR reviews in January 2019, 2014 and 2009. Vietnam agreed with 183 of 211 recommendations made at its 2019 UPR. Australia welcomes this development and encourages implementation of the accepted recommendations by Vietnamese authorities as soon as practicable. See here for Australia's 2019 statement.