Your Excellencies President Truong Tan Sang and Madame Mai Thi Hanh; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen good evening.
Your Excellency: let me begin by thanking you for the warm and generous welcome to Viet Nam that you have offered to me, my wife Janine and our delegation. I also want to offer our sincere gratitude to everyone who has contributed to the arrangements for our visit.
We are very pleased to return to your beautiful country. Much has changed since we last visited in 2008. What remains unchanged is the warmth, optimism and hospitality of the Vietnamese people.
Your Excellency: when we spoke this morning, we both noted how the relationship between New Zealand and Viet Nam has developed rapidly in recent times. It has flourished because the relationship is a wide-ranging one. And it continues growing in strength because it is underpinned by long-standing people-to-people links.
People-to-people links are the most fundamental part of our relationship. It is from these links that real understanding and trust is built. It is from these links that agreements can be made and contracts entered into.
The visit of your Deputy Prime Minister Mr Nguyen Xuan Phuc in April last year, who I met at my residence, and Minister of Defence General Phung Quang Thanh this year are examples of high-level bilateral visits in both directions. I note that New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Rt Hon John Key, has visited Viet Nam twice; and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Hon Murray McCully visited Vietnam in 2012. It is our hope that you and Mdme Mai Thi Hanh will visit New Zealand so we can repay your hospitality.
Since 2009 when New Zealand and Viet Nam established our Comprehensive Partnership, trade between our two countries has increased by almost 70 percent, and we are on track to reach our US$1 billion target by 2015.
That year, 2015, will be an important year for New Zealand and Viet Nam. In 2015, Vietnam and New Zealand will mark the 40th anniversary of our diplomatic relations, on 19 June. Vietnam will also mark the 20th anniversary of its accession to ASEAN.
Part of the growth in our relationship and trade has stemmed from the ASEAN-Australia-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement that came into force on 1 January 2010. That FTA has provided fresh opportunities for bilateral trade and migration between our two countries, and a joint commitment to initiatives that foster economic integration.
Elsewhere, we are both cornerstone partners in other important regional initiatives. The Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership negotiations once they are finalised have the potential to bind our respective economic futures even more closely together.
Those agreements, however, are just one part our relationship. In recent years, we have concluded bilateral arrangements in areas as diverse as a working holiday scheme, science and technology, education and training, customs co-operation and combating transnational crime. Today we have added a Double Taxation Agreement to that list, and soon we will have a revised Air Services Agreement.
There are also important links in education. The number of Vietnamese students studying in New Zealand has almost doubled since 2008. New Zealand education providers – universities and tertiary education providers - have established relationships in Viet Nam. I am looking forward to meeting some of them and some of the Vietnamese people who have studied in New Zealand at functions here in Ha Noi and in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnam is also becoming a popular tourist destination for New Zealanders. And along with the growth in tourism, initiatives such as the working holiday scheme are also building awareness and appreciation of the landscapes, history and culture of our two countries and our people.
Your Excellency: this is an exciting time in the Vietnam and New Zealand relationship. We have achieved much together, and have much to be proud of. Let me assure you that New Zealand is a committed partner and friend for Viet Nam. We share common goals of peace and prosperity for all in this region. We look forward to building a relationship that delivers benefits for both our countries and enables us to achieve more together than we could alone.
May I conclude in New Zealand’s first language, Māori, with the following words: “Me te mihi nui mō ō manaakitanga, tēnā koe i ō manaakitanga mai, me te aroha tino nui, kia ora tātou katoa.” I thank you for your kindness, I thank you also for your hospitality, we will have very fond memories of our visit. I wish good health to you all.
I now want to offer a toast to the good health of Your Excellencies, and to the bright future of relations between Viet Nam and New Zealand. Chuc suc khoe!