German president, businesses visit Vietnam eyeing investment

By Francesco Guarascio and Phuong Nguyen

HANOI (Reuters) -A German business delegation, including top firms for tunnel machines, wind farms and industrial supplies, joined President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in a visit to Vietnam starting on Tuesday, as Berlin strives to reduce its reliance on China.

German companies have invested over $3 billion in the Southeast Asian manufacturing hub, led by automotive giant Bosch, according to the German chamber of commerce in Vietnam.

During the visit, Steinmeier and German labour minister Hubertus Heil signed a memorandum of understanding with their Vietnamese counterparts on skilled labour mobility to facilitate transfers of Vietnamese workers to Germany.

After a meeting with Vietnam’s President Vo Van Thuong, Steinmeier said some of the companies with him “were looking into establishing a presence in the country”.

Thuong told reporters he would welcome German investment in renewable energy and infrastructure.

Companies in the business mission include Herrenknecht, which dominates the global market for tunnel boring machines. It is already selling tools to build the metro in Ho Chi Minh City, amid Vietnam’s plans to expand its railway and metro systems.

Wind farm developer PNE AG is also in the delegation, possibly trying to tap into Vietnam’s planned expansion in offshore wind, despite regulatory delays.

Building materials multinational Knauf Gips KG and automotive supplier Tesa are there too. Both already have operations in Vietnam.

The visit “underlines Germany’s interest in looking beyond China and diversifying its economic relations,” said Florian Feyerabend, the representative in Vietnam for Germany’s Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a think tank.

Steinmeier’s visit was delayed by a year because of a political reshuffle in Vietnam that led early last year to the resignation of its president.

Steinmeier’s visit follows a trip to Hanoi by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in November 2022, then the first by a German leader in more than decade.

After meeting leaders in Hanoi, Steinmeier will visit Ho Chi Minh City, the country’s business hub, on Wednesday.

(Reporting by Francesco Guarascio and Phuong Nguyen; Editing by Kim Coghill and Mark Potter)