MANILA, Philippines—Vietnam will need Philippine investment and managers to help push it into the “big league” of the Association Southeast Asian Nations, said Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung as he urged Filipino businessmen to expand their presence in his country’s booming economy.
Sending managers and business executives to this neighbor across the South China Sea is a long way from the Vietnam War years when the Philippines, being an ally of the United States, aided the enemy side by sending engineers and medical professionals.
Speaking through a translator before a joint gathering of Filipino and Vietnamese businessmen on Friday, Dung said foreign partners were an integral part of Vietnam’s economy.
Dung drew parallels between the Philippines and Vietnam, saying both countries were now enjoying robust growth despite recent economic problems.
“Both countries also have a population of about 84 million with a “young and sizeable labor force … dynamic and well-educated,” he said.
Nguyen Thanh Bien, Vietnam’s vice minister of trade and industry, told the forum that two-way trade between the two countries had risen to $1.12 billion in 2006.
Dung, who arrived last Thursday at the head of a 110-person mission to drum up bilateral trade, said the two countries’ leaders want to push that figure past the $2-billion mark.
The Vietnamese premier was here on a two-day state visit, the second leg of a five-nation tour that started in Indonesia and will take him to Singapore, Burma and Brunei.
Dung said Vietnamese investment policies were now moving toward a more open economy and that economic reforms would “vigorously improve the institutions of the market economy.”
In 1986, Vietnam launched its “doi moi” (change and newness) program of reforms designed to transform the communist country from a centrally planned economy to what its leaders call “a market economy with socialist direction.”
Vietnam, which joined the World Trade Organization last January, is enjoying rapid growth, with the economy expanding 7.87 percent in the first half of 2007. It joined the 10-member ASEAN in 1995.
50 RP firms
Dung said Philippine investments in Vietnam have reached $250 million, making the Philippines the 27th largest source of inflows worldwide and the fourth largest in Southeast Asia.
He said there were to date 31 Philippine investment projects in Vietnam.
There are some 50 Philippine companies operating in Vietnam, the biggest of which are the United Laboratories pharmaceutical firm and food manufacturer Liwayway Marketing Corp. known for its Oishi brand of flavored snacks.
Other Philippine ventures are in automotive assembly, beverages, packaging, garments, furniture and information technology services.
“I hope this meeting will result in more contracts and more trade between our countries,” Dung said.
Samie Lim, president of the Philippine Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the demand for Filipino managers in Vietnam is very high.
Talks with AIM
“There are at least a thousand Filipino managers there and [the Vietnamese] are in talks with the Asian Institute of Management about a possible program through which more could be sent [there],” Lim said.
The ZMG Signium Ward Howell recruitment firm and the University of Asia and the Pacific are organizing the First Philippine-Vietnam Businesses Mission from Aug. 29 to Sept. 1, with some 50 Filipino businessmen participating.
ZMG regional director Wilfrido Arcilla said the mission was aimed at helping Filipino businessmen obtain an in-depth understanding of Vietnam’s development, the present and future prospects of the Vietnamese economy as well as its emerging consumer and industrial markets.
“[We also want to] explore business opportunities in the areas of import and export, investments, banking and finance,” Arcilla said.
He declined to say which companies were sending representatives, but said these were firms engaged in real estate, distribution, logistics, food processing, animal feeds and petrochemicals.
Dien said the two-way merchandise trade reached $670 million in the first half of 2007 and is expected to grow by 8 percent to $1.3 billion by yearend.
Vietnam’s top imports from the Philippines include iron and steel, paper, machinery and rubber while its top exports include rice, electronic parts, coffee, plastics, garments, footwear and other consumer goods.