Off on the Phad Thai foot

Southeast Asia is increasingly establishing itself in Italy and Europe thanks to its rich culinary offer.

“Don't eat anything your great-great grandmother wouldn't recognize as food” said the American writer Michael Pollan. Who better than Italians, always ready to criticize any foreign dish, to agree? And yet, in the latest years Southeast Asian cuisine is overcoming geographical boundaries and winning over even the most sceptical hearts. Not only are countless Thai and Vietnamese restaurants opening all around Italy, but even new TV series are being made to portray the scents, taste, and colours of Asian dishes. But which are the most popular in Europe and Italy today, that even your great-great grandmother would be fond of?

One could fill lots of book trying to illustrate the richness and variety of ingredients in Vietnamese cuisine, and it still wouldn’t be enough. When France colonised Vietnam and its neighbours in 1887, it formed the Indochinese Union and heavily influenced this region’s cuisine. But before that, the culinary heritage of Vietnam was influenced by China, which provided a fundamental contribution to the birth of Vietnamese popular dishes. Wontons, wheat noodles, chili peppers and corn can be found in both countries’ culinary heritage. When the French arrived, the ingredients list expanded to include potatoes, asparagus, onions, coffee, and many others. And today, two of the most beloved typical Vietnamese dishes both by locals and Europeans are the outcome of French influence!

The first one is Bánh mì, a delicious baguette-shaped bread made with rice flour instead of wheat flour. Fillings can be very fancy, but the most cherished one is a combination of grilled meat, coriander, pickled vegetables and sauces. The second dish is the world-renowned Pho: a soup of Vietnamese rice noodles and meat broths. It is common belief that the word Pho (pronounced fuh) derives from the French pot au feu (stew). The presence of beef meat, rarely seen in other typical Asian dishes, is further evidence of the influence left by the French colonisation.

As far as Thai cuisine is concerned, the birth of new Thai restaurants everywhere in Italy (not only in Rome and Milan) is a clear sign of its increasing success. Besides the classic Phad Thai (stir-fried rice noodles with vegetables, eggs, roasted peanuts, fish sauce, tamarind juice, garlic, chilli pepper, lime and palm sugar), there are many more creative combinations of flavours that are winning hearts in the West to the extent that Thai Massaman curry, the “king of curry”, was awarded first place in the CNN’s “The world's 50 best foods” list. The reason? “Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential”.

While it is still hard to find Indonesian or Singaporean restaurants in Italy, the interest toward Southeast Asian countries’ cuisine seems to be a fast-growing trend. Suffice it to say that many other dishes in the aforementioned list come from ASEAN countries. Even Netflix, the media giant always very careful about its viewers’ needs, own two series that frequently portrait the cuisine in Bali, Yogyakarta, Cebu, and other Southeast Asian locations: Street Food Asia and Chef’s Table.

All encouraging signs that show once again the increasing interest in ASEAN countries’ history, traditions, and rich culinary offer in Europe and worldwide.

By Valentina Beomonte Zobel

New prospects and future opportunities for trade in Vietnam

The EVFTA paves the way for new investment opportunities for European countries and companies

Once again, the COVID-19 pandemic does not hinder moments of dialogue and discussion about new agreements with ASEAN countries. On the 8th of October, the webinar "Vietnam: the new trade agreement with the EU and opportunities for Italian companies" was held, organized by Assolombarda in collaboration with the Italy-ASEAN Association, in light of the entry into force of the Free Trade Agreement between the European Union and Vietnam. 

Indeed, following the experience of the pandemic, it is increasingly clear that international cooperation is now a valid and effective solution for the economic recovery of states. This is the case of the EVFTA, which significantly improves dialogue between the European and Vietnamese institutions. The agreement guarantees a number of opportunities to companies that decide to look towards Vietnam from Europe and that are willing to join new market segments within an area of increasing economic vitality. Actually, the country plans to grow by 2.7% in 2020, preventing the possibility of a recession, unlike many other developing countries that after years of continued growth, instead, will register a negative sign this year. In the context of geopolitical and trade tensions between China and the United States, Vietnam has become the preferred destination of many companies, including Chinese ones, which in doing so are able to sidestep Washington’s tariffs. 

Specifically, the new legislation over customs offers Vietnam consistent tariff concessions compared to other agreements. In this regard, the Director of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), Thu Trang Nguyen, highlighted the advantages of the commercial arrangement compared to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTTP). The European Union has eliminated 85.5% of tariff lines towards Vietnam compared to 78%-95% guaranteed by the CPTPP. At this rate, by 2027, almost all products of Vietnamese origin exported to the EU will be taxed at 0%, with the exception of the so-called "sensitive goods", such as food and tobacco. These are ambitious trade targets for the EU and Vietnam, unlike the CPTTP, which takes about 10 years to generate the same effects. The agreement includes technical rules regarding the new customs norms and introduces tools that guarantee the fluidity of trade through the valorization of economic integration and the promotion of sustainability and the circular economy.

In tal senso, il Paese sta facendo passi da gigante nel settore energetico, potenziando e incentivando l’uso delle fonti di energia rinnovabile, come ad esempio le cosiddette “solar farms” che provvedono a soddisfare le esigenze energetiche garantendo un impatto minimo sull’ambiente. Il Vietnam intende, infatti, rilanciarsi da subito su questo fronte mirando ad un aumento della percentuale di energia solare ed eolica dal 10% attuale al 15%-20% entro il 2030 e al 25%-30% entro il 2045.

Si tratta di elementi che fanno ben sperare circa il futuro del Vietnam. Il Paese presenta ad oggi grandi potenzialità sulla scena economica internazionale e l’accordo pone finalmente le basi per una sempre migliore cooperazione bilaterale. L’EVFTA procede quindi in linea con gli altri accordi conclusi dalla UE negli ultimi anni e dovrebbe favorire la rapida ripresa economica del Vietnam, rendendolo una delle mete favorite per gli investimenti esteri e per il commercio di beni e servizi. Ad oggi, la crisi innestata dalla pandemia continua a porci di fronte ad un futuro incerto ed offuscato ma, attraverso accordi commerciali di questo calibro e migliorando la cooperazione internazionale, la ripresa potrà essere rapida e sostenibile.

By Hania Hashim

EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement: Benefits and opportunities

The FTA has finally been ratified by the EU and Vietnam. What are the implications for Italy?

The European Council approved on March 30th the Free Trade and Investment Agreement (FTA) between the EU and Vietnam. Today, also the Vietnamese National Assembly ratified the agreement, finalizing the procedure. This is the most ambitious trade agreement the EU ever set up with a developing country, offering significant advantages for European and Italian businesses in South-East Asia. After Singapore in November 2019, the EU-Vietnam FTA is the second agreement between the EU and an ASEAN country.

According to the EU Commission, exports from the EU to Vietnam could increase by 29% in 2035, with an estimated value of more than 8 billion euros. As a consequence, the agreement is expected to boost the creation of more than 110.000 jobs in the EU. These significant numbers will be achieved thanks to an initial 65% reduction in Vietnamese tariffs on EU products, that will be followed by an almost complete removal in 10 years from now. Other relevant points for the EU in the agreement are: the reduction of non-tariff barriers, by adopting European and international norms; an unprecedent access for European industries to the Vietnamese public procurement and services market; the ratification of international norms in regard to labour rights and environmental sustainability.

With regards to Italy, the agreement could prove to be extremely beneficial. Data provided by ISTAT and Confindustria reveal that until now Italy has a trade deficit with Vietnam: in 2018, the country imported goods for 2,5 billion euros, while it exported goods for just 1,3 billion. One of the reasons is definitely the high percentage of Vietnamese tariffs on European products, that creates obstacles also for the 4.400 Italian companies exporting to the Vietnamese market (mainly SMEs). By eliminating trade barriers and developing commercial ties with Vietnam, the agreement could bring significant benefits to some crucial sectors of the Italian market, namely the mechanical, automotive, textile, pharmaceutical and agri-food sectors.

Denomination of origin and geographical indication, which is crucial for Italian export, are also included in the agreement. 169 European Geographical Indications are protected, and among these 38 are Italian. The list includes Modena Balsamic Vinegar, Asiago and Gorgonzola cheese, Grana Padano, Bresaola della Valtellina, Campanian Mozzarella di Bufala, Prosciutto di Parma and San Daniele, Prosecco, Franciacorta, and others. The list is subject to continuing revision and potential extension.

Those listed above are just some of the potential benefits for Italy, the EU and Vietnam, that prove the importance of international trade. The FTA brings important benefits and offers interesting opportunities at a time when trade is suffering the dramatic consequences of the Covid-19 crisis. The hope is that this agreement will represent a useful precedent for other negotiations between the EU and South-East Asian countries.


Article edited by Valentina Beomonte Zobel.

Il momento del Vietnam

Nonostante la guerra commerciale tra USA e Cina e l’impatto della pandemia, il Vietnam si candida ad assumere un ruolo di spicco in questa nuova fase

Con una popolazione giovane e dinamica e attraverso una serie di riforme strutturali significative, negli ultimi decenni il Vietnam ha vissuto una crescita rapida e costante. A dispetto di crisi domestiche e internazionali, l’economia vietnamita si è mostrata forte e solida, sostenuta da una robusta domanda interna e da un’industria manifatturiera orientata all’esportazione. L’adesione all’Associazione delle Nazioni del Sud-Est asiatico ha poi contribuito nel tempo a rafforzare la posizione del Paese, sia sul piano regionale che su quello internazionale.

Negli ultimi anni, lo scontro commerciale tra Cina e Stati Uniti ha generato effetti collaterali che hanno interessato gran parte delle catene di valore regionali e globali. Per aggirare le tariffe e contenere i costi di produzione, diverse aziende hanno cominciato a trasferire le attività produttive dalla Cina ad altri Paesi della regione e in particolare del Sud-Est asiatico. Tra questi, si è distinto il Vietnam che, grazie alla competitività della sua economia, è stato in grado di attirare flussi di investimenti consistenti. Secondo diversi esperti e analisti, sembra proprio che in termini commerciali il Paese sia uno dei maggiori beneficiari dello scontro gli Stati Uniti e Cina.

Il 14 maggio l’Associazione Italia-ASEAN ha organizzato un webinar sul tema del Vietnam e della sua risposta all’emergenza sanitaria con l’Ambasciatore d’Italia in Vietnam, Antonio Alessandro, e il Direttore Generale per le Relazioni Internazionali delle Province del Vietnam, l’Ambasciatore Nguyen Hoang Long. L’obiettivo era quello di fare un punto della situazione in Vietnam alla luce della recente crisi economica e sanitaria.

Oggi infatti, data la profonda integrazione con l’economia globale, il Vietnam è  stato duramente colpito dalla pandemia di Covid-19. In termini di danni subiti dall’economia, il crollo del turismo, il calo della Borsa e la parziale interruzione delle catene di valore hanno fortemente danneggiato le attività economiche nel Paese. Tuttavia, l’impatto sanitario della pandemia non è stato così grave in Vietnam come in altri Paesi, grazie a diverse misure proattive che le autorità hanno messo in campo per affrontare l’emergenza. Sul piano sanitario, la capacità del governo di agire con prontezza per isolare i casi positivi, tracciare i contatti e attuare quarantene selettive, ha dato i suoi frutti. Nel Paese i casi di Covid-19 sono meno di trecento, con una mortalità pari a zero, e solo pochi casi gravi. Le autorità vietnamite, che hanno anche ricevuto gli apprezzamenti dell’Organizzazione Mondiale della Sanità, sono state in grado di fornire una risposta repentina e completa, che ha messo il Paese nelle condizioni di contenere l’impatto sanitario del virus e limitare gli effetti sul piano economico. Nonostante il Fondo Monetario Internazionale stimi per il Vietnam una crescita del 2,7% nel 2020, il governo vietnamita punta ancora a raggiungere l’obiettivo di crescita del 5% con un’ambiziosa strategia di rilancio, mirata a stimolare il consumo interno, attirare investimenti esteri diretti e sostenere l’esportazione di beni ad alto valore aggiunto.

Nonostante l’impatto della pandemia dunque, Il Vietnam si candida a svolgere un ruolo di primo piano nel contesto regionale e internazionale in questa fase incerta. La Presidenza temporanea dell’ASEAN, il seggio non permanente nel Consiglio di Sicurezza delle Nazioni Unite e l’entrata in vigore degli accordi di libero scambio con l’Unione Europea ad agosto mettono il Vietnam nelle condizioni ideali per continuare a sostenere lo sviluppo economico, politico e sociale del Paese nel breve e nel lungo periodo.


Article edited by Tullio Ambrosone.