Bez Babakhani, the new Canadian Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City, is a career diplomat who has been in the business for over 22 years. He joins the diplomatic mission in Saigon at a time when booming trade, cultural exchange and opportunities to collaborate on global issues like climate change are pulling the two countries even closer together.
A lawyer by trade, Bez was posted in Asia before — in Malaysia and South Korea — so is quite familiar with this part of the world. Nothing prepared him, however, for the changes he found in Vietnam since his last visit. From glittering high-rises to an exciting new dining scene, the city and the country are going through an extraordinary transformation.
What does it all mean for the Vietnam-Canada relationship? Being Canada’s largest trading partner in ASEAN, Vietnam is on top of the list when it comes to investment plans, across a number of industries. Since the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) came into force, bilateral merchandise trade between the two countries increased by 10% in spite of the pandemic-related economic downturn, with Vietnam enjoying a trade surplus with the CPTPP countries.
From sea to sea
Bez is excited to see many Vietnamese Canadians return to Vietnam bringing their education and knowledge with them. For him, it is this kind of people-to-people cooperation and knowledge exchange that contribute the most to building strong ties between nations.
The Vietnamese diaspora in Canada counts over 300,000 members, many of whom are active in the arts, science, business and politics and are highly successful. In addition, over 25,000 Vietnamese study in Canada, making the country the 5th largest source of foreign students. Many go to Toronto or Vancouver where there are established Vietnamese communities and top universities, like the University of Waterloo or Ryerson University. The latter invests in promising startups and has identified Vietnam as one of the three “focus zones” globally.
The appeal of Canada in general and Canadian education in particular is easy to explain, says Bez, who himself arrived in Canada from Iran as a student, then became a citizen and entered public service. The country makes everyone feel very welcome. In fact, one in four Canadians are born outside the country.
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Among the initiatives launched in Vietnam by the Canadian public and private sectors of late are quite a few programs that focus on innovation. Other than AI, solar, ICT and other technologies where Canadians are strong, they are working with the local communities to improve yields in agriculture by, among other things, developing new rice varieties that are more climate resilient.
With bilateral trade on an upward trajectory, the mission in Saigon is growing. In the past two years, the consular team went from 30 to 60 employees, and counting. Apart from supporting investment opportunities, the mission’s focus in the next years will be on the environment, specifically plastic pollution. Bez wants to see more young Vietnamese participate in the consulate’s green programs and activities.