Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir and Vietnamese government officials agreed to establish a joint agriculture research and development fund, and worked toward completing a free-trade accord, during meetings in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City over the past week.

Shamir spent the past five days touring Vietnam’s agricultural establishments, attending business seminars and holding meetings with Vietnam’s highest officials, including President Truong Tan Sang, Prime Minister Nguen Tan Dung, National Assembly Vice Chairman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan and Agriculture Minister Cao Duc Phat.

Joining the minister was an Israeli agricultural business delegation under the leadership of Israel Export Institute CEO Ofer Sachs.

During the meeting between Shamir and Sang, the Vietnamese president requested that Israel and Vietnam complete negotiations on a freetrade agreement between the two nations by the end of 2014, Shamir’s spokesman said.

Such an agreement, the two officials stressed, would upgrade the countries’ economic relations in the fields of agricultural technology, science and defense.

Vietnam’s economy has recovered considerably and showed a growth rate of 5.15 percent in the first nine months of 2013, the spokesman explained.

Meanwhile, the east Asian country has already signed similar such free-trade agreements with Japan and Chile and is in the process of doing so with the European Union.

In recent years, a dramatic increase in trade relations has occurred between Israel and Vietnam, and Israeli exports to Vietnam last year jumped by 120% to $747 million.

Shamir and the government officials he met with also agreed upon the establishment of a joint fund for agricultural research and development, to create a framework for expanded partnerships in the Israeli and Vietnamese agricultural business sectors.

Just last week, Shamir took part in a similar understanding with Japan, while three years ago Israel established its first such fund with Italy, and did so with Germany and China last year.

In addition to making these agreements, Shamir also toured a model farm in Ho Chi Minh City that was established a few months ago through Israeli foreign aid to Vietnam and aims to demonstrate the capabilities of agricultural technology, according to the minister’s spokesman.

“In the world there is a great appreciation of the technological and scientific capabilities of the State of Israel in the field of agriculture,” Shamir said following his meetings in Vietnam.

“The government of Vietnam is interested in increasing the involvement of Israeli companies in agriculture, the main business sector in Vietnam, which employs more than 70% of the population. The increasing involvement of Israeli companies in the Vietnamese agricultural industry indicates the economic potential here and is only just now beginning to be implemented.”

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