Ngo Khai Hoan, deputy director of the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Asia-Africa market department, speaks at a conference on enhancing exports to the Middle East and Africa in HCM city on September 27th. (Photo: VNA)

Ngo Khai Hoan, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Asia-Africa Market Department, said the two markets comprise 70 countries with a population of over 1.4 billion and have great demand especially for agricultural and seafood products.

The Middle East has high demand for mobile phones and accessories, computers, farm produce, seafood, garment and textile, footwear, and construction materials.

The region has harsh natural conditions and so is unable to produce locally and imports 90 percent of its agricultural and seafood products, offering a good opportunity for Vietnamese firms, he said.

Vietnam’s trade turnover with Middle Eastern and African countries has gone up sharply in recent years to USD18.5 billion last year, with Vietnam’s exports accounting for USD11.6 billion, he said.

The country accounts for a very small proportion of the region’s imports, he added.

Bui Thi Thanh An, Deputy Director of the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency, said Africa and the Middle East’s imports were worth USD480 billion and USD807 billion, respectively, in 2016 and are expected to reach USD1.2 trillion and USD1.5 trillion by 2020.

Therefore, there is plenty of opportunity for Vietnamese firms to export to the markets.

In addition, their location adjacent to three continents of Asia, Europe and Africa could serve as an entry point to the markets for Vietnamese goods, she said.

Given the fact that Vietnam’s traditional markets are gradually getting saturated, enhancing exports to new markets is the right path for Vietnamese businesses, she emphasized.

However, Hoan said that companies exporting to the two markets have encountered challenges in terms of payment, information, finding partners and fierce competition from other countries.

They need to understand their regulations and Islamic cultural factors such as not consuming alcohol and requiring food and foodstuffs to have Halal certification, he said.

Though the markets do not yet have high food safety standards, they are increasingly adopting trade barriers and so Vietnamese firms should focus on improving food hygiene and safety, he added.

He said the Ministry of Industry and Trade will step up trade promotion efforts, provide businesses with market information and negotiate with countries in the regions to promote exports of Vietnamese rice and seafood.

An suggested Vietnamese companies should participate in trade fairs there to meet potential customers.

The seminar on promoting exports to the Middle East and Africa was held by the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency under the Ministry of Industry and Trade./.