Interview to Luz Pérez GarcíaApril 27, 2020
Interview to Luz Pérez García, Representative in SEA for the Authority Port of Barcelona
24th April, 2020 – Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam
Kindly tell us something about your work profile/business including yourself.
Born, raised and educated in Barcelona ( University of Barcelona ), my professional career started in Barcelona, where I worked from 1997 until early 2014. During that period, I filled in several different positions, highlighting my work for Hasenkamp – Manterola a Logistics company specialized in Art, working for the consul of Estonia, and for the last 6 years ( from 2008 to 2014 ) being the Executive Assistant for the Vice-President (Mr. Joan Roca Sagarra) of Roca Junyent SLP, a well-known lawyer buffet in Spain, headquartered in Barcelona.
Early 2014, me and my husband jointly decided to move to Vietnam to embark in a completely new exciting life-changing adventure. Our existing eagerness to discover new cultures together with our affinity with asian cultures, moved us smoothly into a new life in HCMC.
After a well-deserved break and some adaption time to Vietnam and to their culture, I became the Executive Office Manager for the Chamber of Commerce of Belgium and Luxembourg. With its office based at Eurocham, I actively contributed to the cultural promotion of Belgian-Vietnamese business relations, while strengthening the relations with other Chambers of Commerce.
In 2018, the port of Barcelona decided to choose Vietnam as their first South East Asian destination for their Annual Commercial Mission in 2018 and therefore I was appointed as their Representative in Vietnam. The Mission was a success, and it was definitely an eye-opener, as most of the previous commercial missions were aimed at South American markets, mainly because of the language and similar cultural links between those countries.
When were you arrived in Vietnam and what made you / your company decided to stay here?
When working it Vietnam, it became fast very evident for us that Vietnam has a huge potential of future business possibilities. A energized country with a fast-growing economy, a stable government, and attracting a lot of FDI investments and new business in general. Even it can be sometimes though to find your way around the bureaucracy and regulations, I do feel that Vietnam is definitely open for business.
Together with the fact that we feel personally very aligned with the Asian Mindset and their particular culture, we decided, under the condition that the future allows us, to continue to work with pleasure in this side of the world.
Culture shock related to work-environment from Spain and Vietnam?
During the preparation of the first Trade Mission of the Port of Barcelona in Vietnam I took part in several official meetings with State organisms. (Vietnamese Ministries, Customs and other similar business organizations). These encounters were structured with an eye for detail in advance, based upon the highest level of hierarchy and etiquette, turned into a well-studied ceremony from the very beginning (the way of expressing the welcome greetings and the typical exchange of business cards hold with both hands, as they also do in Japan) until the end with the corresponding official picture. Very different from the actual European meeting approach.
On the other side, in a more day to day office environment, it still surprises me time after time, to see how the people who are working together for the same company are bonding much more on a personal level. This level of connection is considered much more important than in Europe where a much bigger separation between the professional relationship and the personal friendship relationship is considered normal.
What’s happened since? How has your professional career or your company´s career developed since then?
Because of the fact that the Port of Barcelona is looking pro-actively more and more into Asia for future commercial Missions ( both Thailand and Indonesia are shortlisted ) , I was promoted in 2019, after participating in their mission to Japan, to become their Representative for the South East Asian Region. This is a new big challenge and is definitely having a very positive impact on my career.
As far as the export and import industry as it stands today, what do Port de Barcelona bring to the table? What do you think are the biggest challenges this industry in the future?
This answer will need most likely soon some re-thinking. The actual Covid19 will change some of the actual aspects of the industry drastically. There will be definitely a different “after Covid19”. In that view, we believe that commercial relations with Vietnam will gain even more importance as a valid alternative to established supply chains from China.
Ports ( and related logistics ) are facing some serious challenges ahead :
Fast changing economic trends : Ports are directly impacted by economics from the international to local scales. On one hand, international economic downturns can cause significant slowdowns in import and export. On the other hand, volatile trade demands can lead to fast expansion both inside and outside the port and port-related sectors. Ports have to increase their flexibility to cope with volatile economic situations.
Environmental sustainability : Ports and ports operations have a big impact on the air quality (emissions) , water quality (pollutants from vessels) and health of the workers. Ports are facing the challenge to make these operations more environmental friendly in order to meet actual and future international standards.
Technology : The concept of ‘smart ports’ is based on transforming sea transport and logistics by applying digital technology. It is a long-term transformation strategy that will impact all areas of sea transport and bring technology like automation, driverless vehicles, Blockchain, Traffic Management Systems, Cybersecurity, Big Data Applications and the Internet of Things to port operations. By gradually adopting these innovations, smart ports will be able to stay in a competitive zone.
The Port of Barcelona is very well aware of these challenges and is working in collaboration with other Main Ports to be fully compliant and competitive. The Port of Barcelona brings on the table, together with experience to share, a highly flexible, environmental-friendly, technology-advanced and competitive entry gate into Europe.
How do you think Vietnam’s market has changed during the years?
It is evident that Vietnam’s market is changing at a fast pace. It can be even noticed on a day-to-day basis. Over the last twenty years Vietnam underwent an evolution from a closed, difficult-to-penetrate market to a much more accessible one. Certain restrictive conditions to do business were eased, business segments became open for foreign companies, FDI investments are welcomed, all these together pushed the Vietnamese economy forward into a positive curve. Vietnam embraced technology, garments, shoe production and provides excellent conditions for local start-up’s, but without losing their eye on their agricultural production capacity. A few examples:
- Rice: Vietnam went from net importer to net exporter of rice.
- Cashew: Vietnam became the largest exporter of processed cashews in the world.
- Coffee: In 25 years Vietnam became second biggest exporter of coffee in the world.
- Pepper: Vietnam became one of the largest producers and exporters of Black Pepper in the world.
Vietnam’s economy is more and more integrated into the global economy. In 2020 Vietnam is ranked 105 in the world’s Economic Freedom index, 23 places higher than 2019.
The EVFTA is another example of that strategy to opening up to the world. On top, I believe that Vietnam will use their Covid19 success management to attract more FDI investment and new business over the next year to come. This is a positive evolution, but of course a lot of work has still to be done. Certain areas of business (under we can rank Ports, Transport & Customs) are pretty much State controlled. We can not say that Vietnam is yet a 100% free market, but the evolution over the last 20 years is definitively heading into that direction.
Please tell us a little about future plans of Port de Barcelona in Asia and specifically in Vietnam.
The Port of Barcelona has representatives in Latin America (Argentina, Brazil), Europe (France) and Asia (China/Japan). Due to the changing global supply chains, and a renewed focus, a representative for South East Asia became essential. The Port of Barcelona is executing their plan to enlarge their footprint and gaining visibility as a competitive European delivery port for goods coming from the SEA region, via networking, active promotion and close collaboration with all stakeholders in the process. A positive evolution in the export/import numbers between Vietnam and Port of Barcelona has already been recorded after the commercial mission in 2018.
How do you think the EVFTA will benefit EU and Vietnam companies after this pandemic?
As mentioned before, the EVFTA is another well-considered step for Vietnam to become more integrated into the world global economy. And the COVID19 effect will have a positive effect for Vietnam. With a lot of voices in Europa and USA to differentiate the supply chain away from China in order to reduce their dependency, Vietnam is profiling themselves as a perfect alternative to take over that position.
What is your advice to Vietnamese companies who are looking to export their products to Spanish market?
My main advice would be the same advice I give to Spanish companies looking to import their products into Vietnam: Try to have first a deep and detailed understanding of the business culture of the country you are dealing with. Understanding the differences and expectations makes it much easier to do business. And in order to get that perspective, choose a reliable partner for your supply chain. Don’t throw yourself into a business without a decent background check and due diligence of the partners you will work with / deliver too.
For exporting into Spain it is equally important to understand the compliance standards, quality standards and expectations from the Spanish receivers. Different expectations can be a cause for trouble.
Lastly, please tell us an unforgettable experience that you had during all these years in Vietnam?
I will never forget the first wedding I had the honor to be invited to in Vietnam. There were more than 500 guests attending and a complete tight fixed schedule filled with speeches and a dancing performance preceding the big appearance of the wedding couple. We had such fun that day, mainly thanks to the kind and cheerful attitude of the guests with whom we were sharing the table and the surprising and heart-warming detail from the wedding family who specially arranged for us alone an english translator so that we could follow the whole ceremony. They made us feel very welcome and accepted in the celebration.