How has your time been as Ambassador to Viet Nam?
It has been quite interesting. I've already been here for a year and eight months. At the beginning everything was new and different. My previous experience was in Europe and the US. This has been my first time in Asia where you still can see the difference from country to country. The challenge is also in daily life, not just the work. There's no doubt that the language barrier is a problem. While in my work with officials I always have an interpreter, it's not the same as speaking in the same language, the dialogue is not fluent.
I have got used to the conditions here, gradually, as I got to know the people and the work, and today I feel more comfortable. Basically my main mission here is to promote relations between Israel and Viet Nam which takes a lot of my time.
How would you evaluate the current state of the political relationship between Viet Nam and Israel?
I think political relations are going well and are on the right track. They are based on mutual respect and reflect interests of both sides. Obviously, on some issues we may have different views from time to time. My duty here, and I try to do it, is to bring to the attention of the leadership our perspectives, how we look at issues, and to try to convince them to take a more balanced approach.
But this is only one aspect of relations. Basically, we try to focus on those parts that reflect the interests of both sides. Our work here is to concentrate on economic issues, agriculture and water management, as well as information technology. The mutual trade which continues to grow has already crossed the line of US$200 million annually. Exports from Israel to Viet Nam last year increased by over 10 per cent while imports from Viet Nam to Israel grew by over 15 per cent.
In March, an Israeli agricultural technology delegation visited Viet Nam. Israel and Viet Nam said they planned to enhance collaboration in agricultural technology. What shape will that collaboration take?
Well-known Israeli companies are selling irrigation systems to Viet Nam. One of the outstanding projects in agriculture that is going well is the dairy project in Nghe An province for milk production and marketing. This is a joint venture with a budget of over US$1 billion, with funding from the North Asia Commercial Bank. That project is under construction but has already started to produce milk from cows that we brought from New Zealand. Right now we have about 12,000 cows on the farm, 3,500 of them are producing 60 tonnes of milk daily. The ultimate goal is to reach 32,000 cows. So this project is really an excellent example of co-operation between Israel and Viet Nam.
Another aspect of our activities is training. We have developed a system for training in Israel and here. In Israel we conduct courses on agriculture and water and other subjects. Last year we sent 100 Vietnamese to Israel for courses. Then we conducted courses in Viet Nam in various fields. This year we shall hold training courses on social issues. We shall, together with the Women's Union in Ha Noi conduct a workshop on women empowerment and, with Hanoi University, a course on special education. It will be in a way exceptional since usually we concentrate on issues such as agriculture, water and IT.
What agreements have Israel and Viet Nam entered into to boost trade?
In the last year two agreements were concluded – one on preventing double taxation and the other is co-operation on clean water with HCM City. At present we are working on two other important economic agreements.
One of them is on maritime transportation. I hope that we can conclude it soon.
The second agreement, which is no less important is to promote and protect investments. This agreement is still being negotiated. There are still different views on some paragraphs, which I believe can be bridged, so we will be able to move on and to sign the agreement.
The Israeli film festival in February was a great success. What else is your embassy planning to promote Israeli arts and culture here?
The film festival has been running for several years but what was unique this year was that we had the directors of one of the films that were screened. He spoke with the audience after the screening. He also met with students of theatre and cinema who had watched the movie. The importance of such a festival is that through the films we can bring to the Vietnamese audiences different perspectives on social life in Israel as well as political life and the people themselves.
This year we intend to bring artists and musicians to Viet Nam, depending on the availability of funds. — VNS.