By Murali Krishnan, IANS
Hanoi : Despite strong historical and cultural linkages, India and Vietnam have not lived up to the potential of their ties, says Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dzung who feels that greater economic engagement with New Delhi would help his country become a big player in the region.
"This is the question which we keep asking ourselves. Why have we not lived up to our potential? There is a huge opportunity to boost trade and especially more when India's economy is rising and growing at nine percent," the prime minister told a group of Indian journalists ahead of his three-day visit to India next week.
Dzung, who at 57 is the country's youngest prime minister, pointed out that his mission would be to take relations to a new high, especially with India's rising profile in the region and the world.
"We need to find ways to boost trade and increase investments. As an Asian power, India plays an important role and in the development of the region," said the leader regarded as the most progressive after Ho Chi Minh by both the international and national media.
Dzung's visit to India, scheduled to begin July 4, assumes significance as Vietnam has chosen 2007 for focussing on developing relations with India. It also marks the 35th anniversary of establishment of full-scale diplomatic relations between the two sides.
Talking of the Indo-US civil nuclear deal and energy concerns, Dzung said Vietnam supported the utilisation of nuclear technology and nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
"We are keen to see India generate nuclear energy and will welcome any move to see that the country fulfils its energy concerns."
Dzung also pointed out that India's active engagement and increasing role in regional cooperative mechanisms such as ASEAN and the East Asia Summit are necessary for and beneficial for the whole region.
"We have always and will support India in multilateral fora and support India's candidature as a permanent member in the UN Security Council."
Though bilateral trade between both sides has increased from $72 million in 1995 to $1 billion in 2006, making India the thirteenth largest investor among 77 countries, Dzung feels there is untapped potential.
"There have been big investments by the Tatas, India's largest private sector group and Essar, which has a presence in commodities, telecom and shipping in Vietnam. I hope to use my visit to extend an invitation to others as well," said Dzung.
Last month, Tata Steel signed a $3.5 billion agreement with Vietnam Steel Corporation, the country's largest steel company to build a 4.5 million tonne steel mill in Ha Tinh province, 340 km south of Hanoi.
While the Indian steel major will have a 65 percent stake in this project, the agreement also entitles it to a 30 percent equity stake in an iron ore mining project in Vietnam's Thach Khe area.
In addition, Essar Global won a contract for a two million tonne capacity hot rolled steel strip mill valued at $ 527 million in Vung Tau province.
Exports of pepper from India and Vietnam have also increased during January-March 2006 while it declined in the case of Brazil and Indonesia. Indian shipments during this period stood at 4,600 tonnes as against 3,660 tonnes in January-March 2005.
"With the deepening of relations between India and the ASEAN and the country's Look East policy firming up, we would like to give substantial economic content to our close political ties especially when we are one of the fastest growing economies," said Dzung.
Currently, Vietnam's bilateral trade volume with China is estimated at $15 billion and with the US at $9 billion. Dzung indicated that the time had come to give a fillip to commercial ties, particularly when the two countries are experiencing an unprecedented economic boom.