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British PM Cameron on landmark first visit to Vietnam

David Cameron hailed rapidly growing trade with Vietnam during the first visit by a British Prime Minister to the country, as a number of key business deals were signed.

HANOI: British Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday held talks with Vietnamese leaders in a visit to Hanoi aimed at raising the stakes for two-way trade.

Britain and Vietnam struck three multi-million-dollar deals on day one of Mr Cameron's visit - in aviation, government bonds, and oil and gas.

Mr Cameron's visit to Vietnam marks the first by a British Prime Minister to the communist country. He wasted little time getting down to business with his Vietnamese counterpart Nguyen Tan Dung.

Both leaders witnessed the signing of several business deals - a US$580 million aircraft maintenance agreement between Rolls Royce and Vietnam Airlines, and Prudential's investment of £100 million (US$156 million) in the Vietnamese Finance Ministry's first issue of 20-year government bonds.

An MOU on oil and gas exploration, and extraction was also sealed between PetroVietnam and London's SOCO International, Mr Dung told reporters. In addition, Mr Cameron announced a £500 million (US$780 million) loan package for Vietnam's infrastructure projects.

Mr Cameron said trade with Vietnam is growing fast ... having doubled in three years, but it accounts for only 0.5 per cent of Britain's total global trade. He said both sides intend to go much further, and the emerging Southeast Asian economy can do so with greater transparency.

"We discussed the need for greater business integrity, which is essential for both our countries' prosperity. As I've said on this visit before, markets need trust in order to be able to flourish and properly benefit both our countries and all our people," he said.

Also in discussions was China's increasing assertiveness in the South China Sea. Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said he and Mr Cameron shared "deep concern" about recent developments in the region - "particularly the large-scale land reclamation activities which constitute changes to the status quo of the reefs and shoals in the South China Sea, threaten peace, stability, maritime security and safety, freedom of navigation and over-flight in the region."

Mr Cameron vowed before his arrival in Hanoi to crack down on the trafficking of Vietnamese children to Britain. An estimated 3,000 Vietnamese children, many from Vietnam's poorest rural areas, have been trafficked into Britain by criminal gangs, according to the United Kingdom's counter human trafficking bureau.

"Britain is leading the global fight to stamp out this abhorrent trade and we will be discussing how to strengthen our existing strong co-operation with Vietnam," he said.

These are the first talks between a British and a Vietnamese Prime Minister in Vietnam. And from the deals signed on the first day of the visit, Mr Cameron told reporters they're "off to a good start".