Professor Romano Prodi: Vietnam's open economy is the right choice

Tuoi Tre News, 25 March 2013

As the final keynote speaker visiting Vietnam as part of the 4th ASEAN “Bridges - Dialogues Towards a Culture of Peace” program held by the Vienna-based International Peace Foundation and the Vietnam Ministry of Education and Training, Professor Romano Prodi, a former Prime Minister of Italy, shared his views on political and economic issues.

In your speech, “Politics and peace – worldwide cooperation in the age of globalization” at the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, do you mention the dispute in the East Sea?

I don’t look at the map to find what the problems are, I’m not able to get into the specific problem. But I found that, the important thing is how you see the future. Do you think that the future of Asia will be better without increasing tension or increasing competition? I have no doubt about that. I’m not pessimistic. Because when I read the statistics on trade, on cross- investment and so on, I see that, well, co-operation is going on.

But it seems that China is defying concerned countries?

I do remember that when a journalist posed the question to former Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, asking is that easy to have the agreement with the US? He answered, “You have never had experience to go to the bed with the elephant”. Pierre Trudeau once likened living next door to the US to sleeping with an elephant—no matter how friendly the elephant is, you can't help feeling its every twitch and grunt.

A solution will be found on understanding the common interest. Even China, China has strong interest to be linked to the other countries. And this why I am optimistic.

What should ASEAN learn from the EU to become One Community by 2015?

You must do it in ASEAN’s way, not in the EU’s way. Clearly, you have to make your choice, if you have some globalized agreements you will live in the world, if not, you will kill each other.
On the common currency, I don’t think in the foreseeable future you will have the common currency because before having it, you must share a lot of political experiences, of institutions, it may be completely different but the idea of co-operation must be the same.  The idea of common currency without harmonizing different economic policies, it will not work.

Could you please give advice on how Vietnam can become an industrial country by 2020, as planned?

Vietnam has already chosen to be an open economy, and I think it’s the right choice. Your future is more and more linked to other countries, as a consequence, the Vietnamese institution must be coherent with international co-operation. So in terms of long-term policy, do investment-related areas, such as taxation and customs, give long-term security for investors?

Entrepreneurs have said to me that generally they are happy investing in Vietnam, because the economy is going on. But many of them say, “we have no clear perspective for the future”.
I think Vietnam should look more and more to the long-term concept of stability, because investors don’t look at tomorrow, they look at 10 years from now. Do legal and administrative perspectives guarantee for the future? The fact is that, if you have no guarantee for an open market, nobody will invest in Vietnam, everybody will go to a bigger market.

How is your life now that you are no longer Prime Minister?

I arrived late to political activities, I started my political life in 1995. Politicians are more emotional, not rational, I remember. I entered politics thinking that they are rational animals, but it’s not true, they are naive sometimes, more than you think (laughs). And the personal relations are more important than the real interests sometimes.

And now, coming back to teaching, to do such activities, I think better on many points of view. I had the possibility to come here, to stay in Asia for ten days, talking with you, talking to hundreds of children etc., I could have never done that when I was in politics. And this is a nice life without taking decisions, as criticizing is much easier.

Professor Romano Prodi was born in 1939. He was the Prime Minister of Italy twice (from 1996 – 1998 and  2006 – 2008), and a President of the European Commission (1999).

Prof Prodi was a professor of economics at the University of Bologna, a visiting professor at Harvard University and the Stanford Research Institute and a researcher at the London School of Economics. He is currently the United Nations’ Special Envoy for Mali and the Sahel Zone.

As an expert on European industrial policy, he twice served as chairman of the Institute for Industrial Reconstruction (IRI), Italy's state holding company, and is today the President of the Foundation for World Wide Cooperation.