Norway – Viet Nam cooperation in the fisheries: Future forward

At the end of February 2023, State Secretary of Norway’s Foreign Affairs Ministry Erling Rimestad will visit and work in Vietnam. On this occasion, Vietnam Fisheries Magazine have an exclusive interview with him about the potential cooperation between Norway and Vietnam, especially in the field of seafood.

Your Excellency Erling Rimestad, can you share a little bit with the Fisheries Journal about your visit to Viet Nam this time?

Thank you! This is my first visit to beautiful Viet Nam. I will co-chair the 10th Norway-Viet Nam political consultations with the Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Lê Thu Hằng. I am happy that we can meet physically this year after a 3-year break due to Covid-19.

How can you assess the bilateral cooperation between Norway and Viet Nam in general and in the aquaculture/fishery sector in particular?

During the political consultations we will discuss several areas of Norway-Viet Nam bilateral ties. I am pleased to say that fisheries, aquaculture, and the marine sector have been a central part of our cooperation in the 52 years since we established diplomatic relations.

For nearly forty years, Norway have enjoyed our cooperation with Viet Nam and its Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) in the fisheries sector. Vietnam’s first fisheries law was developed with Norwegian support, including technical assistance and training of human resources.   Many leaders and experts of MARD and its departments have studied in Norway. It is encouraging to see our cooperation reaching a new level as equal partners, as a result of Viet Nam becoming a middle-income country. 

Developing fisheries and aquaculture in a sustainable and just manner amid rising global challenges including climate change, is a shared interest for Norway and Viet Nam.  Innovation and technology will play a key part to succeed. This opens new opportunities to further extend our traditional cooperation.

Norwegian salmon is already well-known in Vietnam. But Norway has more to offer. We are planning to introduce a broader range of seafood from Norway to Vietnamese consumers this year.  Viet Nam is also a venue for outsourced processing of Norwegian seafood products such as mackerel for other markets in the region. This is an area with potential for further growth. This is thanks to the country’s impressive growth rate, political stability, abundant young labor force etc.

Norwegian salmons have been well known worldwide. Can you share how Norway can produce high quality seafood/salmons’ products and create such a reputable branding?

Combining traditions with knowledge and a modern scientific approach, always keeping the environmental context in mind, forms the basis of Norwegian aquaculture. 

The Norwegian coastline, which reaches far into the Arctic, offers ideal conditions for a fish that thrives in cold waters. Here, the salmon can live in its natural environment. For thousands of years, Norwegian fishermen have survived thanks to our in-depth knowledge about the Norwegian sea, and the, sometimes, inhospitable coastal environment. Therefore, we know what our fish need and where they thrive. 

Norway was the first country to successfully farm and commercialize Atlantic salmon back in the 70s. Every Norwegian fish farm is sustainable and offers plenty of room for the fish to move around. Only 2.5% of the volume in the fish farms is fish, the remaining 97.5% is water. We also only feed the salmon clean, high-quality food in the form of pellets. In addition, the Norwegian salmon production has reduced its use of antibiotics remarkably. Since 1987 it has been reduced by a startling 99%. Today only 0.14 gram of antibiotics is going into every ton of salmon. 

Today, Norwegian salmon farmers continue to push boundaries to evolve and improve when it comes to technology and sustainability. Our salmon has both low carbon-footprints and environmental footprints. Norwegian salmon is very resource-efficient, meaning less water and feed is needed to produce edible meat than for most other proteins. The effect of fish farming on the environment is also constantly monitored: The seabed beneath all fish farms in Norway are subject to environmental inspections by independent third parties, to ensure low emissions from droppings of feed and feces beneath the fish farms and to allow for a recovery period for the natural seabed. 

All of these steps contribute to the special qualities of the Norwegian salmon with its typical flavour, colour, and consistency. We build our marketing and branding campaign on these unique characteristics, and this is what has made Norwegian salmon familiar to consumers worldwide as healthy, tasty, and easy to prepare, and of a high enough quality that it can also be eaten raw. 

What are the needs for seafood consumption in the Norwegian market? Do you see any chance and opportunity for Viet Nam’s seafood there? 

Norwegians consume about 19.5 kilograms each of fish and fish products per year.  I am very impressed that Vietnamese people eat almost twice as much seafood, at about 37 kilograms per person per year. That should mean that there is a lot more room for seafood in the Norwegian diet as well!

I see a promising opportunity for Vietnamese seafood, particularly shrimp and pangasius, in Norway.  Generally, Norwegian consumers are very focused on healthy and high-quality food. People want products that are clearly marked with their origin and that carry a certification that the products have been checked for any harmful substances and found to be safe. 

What standards, regulations, and rules that Viet Namese seafood exporters should consider if they want to export seafood to Norway? 

Norway is not a member of the European Union (EU) but is part of the EU’s single market through the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement. Most of our food standards and regulations therefore correspond with those in the EU.

As Viet Nam has signed numerous free trade agreements, Vietnamese seafood exporters would be familiar with the standards and technical regulations of many importing markets includes the EU. In Norway, we focus on how animals are cultured, fed, caught, processed, and even transported. We also have in place traceability systems for seafood products, which are very beneficial to our seafood industry, in order to gain the trust of consumers and profit from markets worldwide.

How do you see the potential for cooperation between the two countries in this sector, your excellency?

I am very optimistic. The Letter of Intent of Cooperation signed between the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development of Vietnam and the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries of Norway last year gives us a good framework to further enhance bilateral cooperation in the aquaculture industry.

Norway’s expertise, advanced products and technologies can assist Viet Nam in developing aquaculture in a sustainable and green manner and improving processing quality to produce higher volumes of products and adding more value to serve both domestic and international markets. 

Viet Nam’s success stories with shrimps and pangasius can be improved even further through increased investments in technologies and R&D for more added value and to create high-quality products that can satisfy the most demanding markets, including Norway. A potentially interesting area for further collaboration is in improving the processing of marine rest raw materials to produce high value products of both feed and human grade, and for exports. 

In terms of bilateral trade, Norway has salmon, cod, king crab and, shrimps from the sea while Vietnam have pangasius and brackish water shrimps. We do not compete but will complement each other. Therefore, I do hope that the Free Trade Agreement between Viet Nam and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) with four state members of Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland will be concluded soon so that we can have a new instrument to boost bilateral trades between our countries.

Thank you very much!

Hồng Thắm

Vietnam Fisheries Magazine

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