Vietnam became Finland’s biggest trading partner in Southeast Asia

Vietnam, with its nearly 100 million inhabitants, is one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Keijo Norvanto, Finland’s Ambassador to Vietnam, is fascinated by the forward-looking and dynamic attitude of the Vietnamese people.

Keijo Norvanto, Finland’s Ambassador to Vietnam, encourages Finnish companies to explore the business opportunities available in Vietnam. Photograph: Hoang Hanh

How would you describe the current situation and the biggest challenges in Vietnam?

Vietnam has recovered from the recession that was caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourists have returned, the economy is growing and inflation has stabilised. Vietnam has become Finland’s biggest trading partner in Southeast Asia. Finland has quadrupled its exports of goods to Vietnam in the past two years. Last year, Finland’s exports to Vietnam were valued at about EUR 400 million. I believe that more and more Finnish companies will find their way to the Vietnamese market and that our exports will continue to grow. Vietnam is entirely dependent on foreign exports, and the poor outlook of the global economy affects Vietnam, too. Political tensions is another challenge, and Vietnam is among the countries that are most affected by climate change. Vietnam needs support in cutting down its emissions and in mitigating climate change. In addition, the country has still a long way to go in eradicating inequality and in developing the rule of law.

How is Finland cooperating with Vietnam?

Bilateral development cooperation between Finland and Vietnam ended about four years ago. Contacts and networks created during the years of development cooperation have been useful in commercial projects, too. Finland is funding Vietnam through the Public Sector Investment Facility (PIF), which finances investments in developing countries, and through the Developing Markets Platform, which helps Finnish companies enter developing markets. In addition, five projects are under way between Finnish and Vietnamese government agencies. The Finnish agencies involved are the Finnish Meteorological Institute, the Geological Survey of Finland, the Finnish Food Authority, the Finnish Environment Institute, and the Natural Resources Institute Finland. The projects receive funding from development cooperation appropriations. Among the themes the projects cover are air quality and forecasts, meteorological services, sustainable management of water resources, a food chain quality management system for coldwater fisheries, and sustainable forest resources.

Finnpartnership, too, is active in Vietnam and has its own representative in Hanoi. Vietnam’s economy is growing strong, and the country is among the winners of globalisation. The free trade agreement with the EU creates a lot of business opportunities in Vietnam, and I see a bright future for Finnish companies here. Vietnam’s next major leap will be a green transition towards carbon neutrality.

How do you see the future of Vietnam?

Vietnam has a bright future. I see many business opportunities in different sectors. In addition, Finland has good contacts and a good reputation in Vietnam since the time of development cooperation, and we can use those to our benefit.

What has uplifted you personally in Vietnam and what can we learn from the locals?

I am fascinated by the forward-looking and dynamic attitude of the Vietnamese people. They are straightforward and open people. They set their goals high, and they work towards their goals as individuals and communities. People here are curious about Finland’s path to a developed country. Finland attracts many young Vietnamese students, and many of them return home after their studies. There are about 2,000 Vietnamese students in Finnish higher education institutions at the moment. We are in the process for creating a network of alumni who have returned to Vietnam, as they are an important asset for Finland and for Finland’s country image in Vietnam.


Text: Anna Palmén