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BUSINESS IN BRIEF 1-3ASEAN Business Forum opens in Bangkok

Nearly 600 entrepreneurs and investors from throughout Southeast Asia and the world attended the ASEAN Business Forum 2013 which opened in Bangkok on February 27.

The forum entitled “Challenges and Priorities towards AEC 2015: Capturing the value within”, will contribute to improving awareness about the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and the competitive edge for ASEAN members, especially Thailand.

ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh said that ASEAN is in the process of establishing a common community by 2015 based on the three pillars of political security, economics and culture, with the emphasis on economics.

The establishment of the AEC will contribute to ensuring the success of ASEAN’s integration process.

Currently, ASEAN is successfully implementing the planned stages of building the AEC. However, there is much to be done and ASEAN member states should double efforts to ensure that the AEC is essentially completed by 2015.

In the future, ASEAN will prioritize effective measures in reducing the development gaps between ASEAN member countries.

Vietnam has taken numerous measures towards a common ASEAN community over the years, including significant contributions to the establishment of the AEC more recently.  Vietnam expects to be actively involved in action plans in order to build the AEC successfully, leading to further integration of ASEAN members in the next phase up to 2015.

The ASEAN Business Forum has become an annual event where entrepreneurs from Southeast Asia and around the world can share and learn from each other’s experiences.

The event also offers a good opportunity for establishing a network of business relations as well as helping businesses sharpen their competitive edge over the long term.

Thai businesses keen on investing in Vietnam

The Thai business community has shown special interest in the stand set up by the Vietnamese Trade Office at an exhibition showcasing investment opportunities being held as part of the ASEAN Business Forum in Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand is currently Vietnam’s third largest investor among ASEAN member countries, mainly due to the developing nation’s abundant natural and human resources.

The trade ties between the two countries have developed rapidly over the years with bilateral trade revenue jumping from US$3.6 billion in 2006 to US$9.5 billion in 2012.

Thailand has poured US$6.7 billion in direct investment into Vietnam, generating 12,000 jobs for domestic labourers.

Its large conglomerates, like Bangkok Bank, Charoen Pokphan and Siam Cement Group, have all decided to expand their investments into Vietnam.

Cambodia-Vietnam trade increases

Bilateral trade between Vietnam and Cambodia reached US$3.3 billion in 2012, up 17 percent from the previous year, according to the Vietnamese Trade Office in Cambodia.

Of this figure, Vietnam’s total export value was US$2.8 billion (up 18 percent) while its import value stood at US$486 million (up US$430 million) over 2011.

Vietnam’s exports to Cambodia include steel, confectionery, cereals, garments and textiles, vegetables, paper, machines and accessories. Its imports encompass seafood, maize, tobacco, rubber, rice and cashew nuts.

Vietnamese commercial attaché in Cambodia Tran Tu said that over the past years, the two countries have created favourable conditions for border trade, which is expected to help the two sides achieve the bilateral trade target of US$5 billion in 2015.

To achieve the goal, Vietnam and Cambodia still need to work closely to come up with solutions to overcome the difficulties and weaknesses, including border procedures and haulage, poor infrastructure, and competition from foreign enterprises, Tu added.

Trade unions urged to protect migrant workers

ILO in Vietnam has called on Vietnamese trade unions to take a more active role in protecting migrant workers overseas given the volume is expected to increase over coming years.
The comment was made in a two-day workshop on “The role of trade unions in protecting migrant workers” that concluded in Thanh Hoa Province on February 27.

The event was organised by the International Labour Organization (ILO) and the Vietnam General Confederation of Labour (VGCL). According to the VGCL’s Legal Department, most Vietnamese migrant workers in other countries are not protected by trade unions due to the lack of policies and resources.

The organisation admitted that this is a problem Vietnamese trade unions need to address in the near future. Trade unions could take a big role in helping overseas migrant workers overcome major challenges before, during and after their stay in a foreign country.

“Vietnamese workers overseas still pay higher costs for migration and the actual jobs are not the same as what they were told before departure”, said ILO Asia Pacific senior specialist on workers activities Pong-Sul Ahn.

“Trade unions could help migrant workers find recruitment agencies that offer good jobs with low fees. Even though protecting migrant workers is a challenge for trade unions due to their limited financial capacity, inadequate human resources and being excluded from agreements signed between governments, it is still achievable,” said Pong-Sul Ahn.

“The law should be revised to include the role of trade unions in protecting migrant workers. Cooperation between Vietnamese trade unions and the trade unions in the destination country should be promoted,” he added.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs (MOLISA), about 800,000 Vietnamese workers are sent abroad every year, accounting for nearly 5 per cent of job creation. Nearly 500,000 workers are working abroad under contract, spread across more than 40 countries. Vietnam plans to increase labour exports in the 2013-15 period, targeting an extra 100,000 workers being sent abroad a year.

Labour migration is an attractive strategy for many poor Vietnamese families and individuals to improve their income, with migrant workers sending home about US$1.8 – 2 billion a year. Returning migrants also contribute to the country’s socio-economic development by bringing back enhanced skills, knowledge, experience and cultural and social awareness.

Agro-forestry, fishery exports: $4.8 billion in two months

The export of agro-forestry and fishery products grossed $4.83 billion in the first two months of this year, a year on year rise of 31.5 per cent.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Vietnam shipped abroad 415,000 tonnes of coffee for $884 million, up 22.3 per cent in volume and 38.1 per cent in value year on year. The US and Germany remain the country’s largest coffee importers.

During the period, shipments of rice rose by 68.2 per cent to 677,000 tonnes valued at $310 million, down 15.4 per cent in value.

Pepper also contributed $169 million to the revenue of the country’s farm produce exports, with a total volume of 25,000 tonnes.

Rubber, tea and cashew nuts saw declines in volume but maintained fair revenue growth. The export of rubber dipped 31.5 per cent to 179,000 tonnes, bagging 518 million USD, a 16.6 percent increase.

Tea raked in $33 million from the 21,000 tonnes exported, down 5.7 per cent in volume but up 18.6 per cent in value. Pakistan remains Vietnam ’s top market, buying 18.9 per cent of Vietnam ’s exports. The volume and value of tea exported to the United Arab Emirates increased eightfold from last year.

Exports of cassava and its products grew substantially; over 1 million tonnes valued at $308 million, up 3.1 per cent in volume and 55.4 per cent in value.

Wood and wooden products brought home $831 million, and seafood $876 million, representing a respective rise of 36.2 per cent and 11.6 per cent.

EU exports rise 22pct in 2012

Two-way trade turnover between Viet Nam and the European Union (EU) in 2012 reached $29.09 billion, up 19.77 per cent from 2011, according to the General Department of Customs.

The Phu Quy Wood Export Processing factory makes furniture, targeting the European market. Bilateral trade between Viet Nam and the EU last year hit $29.09 billion, a year-on-year increase of 19.77 per-cent.

Viet Nam exported $20.31 billion worth of goods to the EU in 2012, an increase of 22.71 per cent on year, while importing $8.79 billion worth of goods and services, up 13.48 per cent. This year, the EU surpassed the US to become Viet Nam’s largest importer.

Viet Nam’s key export items to the EU were garments, footwear, coffee, seafood, computers, mobile handsets and spare parts. These accounted for 75 per cent of the country’s total exports in 2012.

While the country only began to export mobile handsets and spare parts to the EU in 2011, the export value for these products topped $5.4 billion last year.

Other commodities saw moderate growth, such as plastic products, wood and wooden products, bags, suitcases, umbrellas, pepper and cashew nuts.

For its part, Viet Nam imported mainly machinery and equipment, pharmaceuticals, milk and dairy products from the EU.

According to the European Market Department of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, the fact that bilateral trade between Viet Nam and the EU continued growing despite the world economic stagnation and the number of EU member states facing debt crisis was a positive signal, suggesting that the cooperation between the two sides was steadily increasing.

Viettel goes fully global

Giant telco Viettel has rolled out ambitious plans for a greater global reach in 2013.

It is reportedly set to materialise 15-20 per cent growth targets this year, with revenue surpassing VND160 trillion ($7.6 billion) and profits of VND34.6 trillion ($1.6 billion). Of this, over $1.1 billion will come from outbound investments with three key markets Cambodia, Laos and Mozambique.

Last year, the military-run telco group reaped $734 million in revenue from telecom services in outbound markets, a 41 per cent jump on year and transferred $77 million profits to Vietnam, a four-fold increase over 2011, according to Viettel’s deputy general director Nguyen Manh Hung.

A Viettel executive said the group planned to make forays into 10-15 foreign markets during 2013-2015 and contribute more than VND40 trillion ($1.9 billion) to the group’s overall revenue.
As planned, the telco will acquire licences to tap several new outbound markets right in 2013.

To date, Viettel was and is doing business in seven outbound markets, including Cambodia, Laos, Haiti, Mozambique, Peru, Cameroon and East Timor. Most recently in 2012, Viettel acquired licences to set footholds in Cameroon and East Timor and is reportedly serving over 60 million foreign subscribers with diverse trademarks – Metfone in Cambodia, Unitel in Laos (Asia), Natcom in Haiti and Movitel in Mozambique (Africa).

It is striving to have around 400-500 million subscribers in foreign markets by 2015 which will be bigger than its domestic customers, according to a Viettel development plan which was made public.

Viettel’s deputy general director Le Dang Dung said Africa remained the group’s strategic market for outbound investments. Thereby, in parallel to Mozambique, Viettel is developing telecom network in Tanzania after spending over $18 million to acquire 65 per cent stake in Epocha & Golden Ocean Tanzania Limited (Egotel) from BITMAP Pte Ltd. which has placed its headquarters in Singapore.

The group also showcases interests in handset markets in diverse countries like Myanmar, Bangladesh, North Korea, Cuba, Paraguay and Venezuela and is striving to make inroads in Mali.

In respect to why Viettel’s target markets are mostly developing nations a Viettel representative explained despite facing big challenges the group had certain advantages when tapping developing markets.

“Difficulties bring opportunities as not many people dare to take on challenges. We have posted successes in poor markets through optimising investment costs, diligent and creative labour,” said a Viettel executive.

Outbound market revenue constitutes an increasing portion in Viettel’s revenue structure, from 7.1 per cent in 2010 to 9 per cent in 2011 and 11 per cent in 2012. This year, outbound market revenue is expected to account for 15 per cent of the group’s total revenue.

“Tapping foreign markets is Viettel’s long-term strategy and a way to sustain growth striving for sustainable development. Besides, it lays the premise for investment in other areas like terminal equipment market, content services and cable television,” said Viettel’s deputy general director Duong Van Tinh.

Hanoi expects to welcome 15.5 mln tourists in 2013

Hanoi expects to serve 15.5 million tourists, including 2.25 million foreigners, in 2013, Deputy Director of the municipal Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism Mai Tien Dung said on February 26.

During the traditional Lunar New Year (Tet) festival from February 9-18, the capital city received 2.08 million tourists, including 60,000 foreigners, representing a year-on-year increase of 11 percent.

Despite the global economic recession last year, Hanoi welcomed 2.1 million foreign visitors, an increase of 11.3 percent from 2011, and one-third of all foreign visitors to Vietnam – a new record for the city.

The city also attracted 12.3 million domestic tourists.

Also in 2012, Hanoi was rated the best destination in Vietnam for city life by Lonely Planet Traveller, the world’s leading tourist magazine.

Hanoi, together with Hoi An, made the 2012 top 10 attractive destinations in Asia, as chosen by Smart Travel Asia, a Hong Kong online tourist magazine.

The capital city of Vietnam came second in a list of 100 international cities with good hotel services, which was compiled by the well-known tourism website Trivago.-V

Three energy “giants” establish strategic partnership

The three State-owned giants in the energy sector have inked a strategic cooperation agreement with the aim of ensuring national energy security.

The general directors of the National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam), the Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and the Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (TKV) signed the agreement at a ceremony in Hanoi on February 26.

Under the agreement, the three groups will cooperate in developing a master plan for the sector as well as in investing in the building and operation of power plants, the exploitation and transportation of coal both at home and abroad. They will also share the use of services and coordinate their communications activities.

President of the Vietnam Energy Association Tran Viet Ngai said the cooperation between the three groups over the past time has contributed to ensuring national energy security.

However, Ngai pointed out the fact that there is yet a master plan for the energy sector as a whole, with the coal, power and oil industries each having its own development plan.

This fact hinders the implementation of projects included in the national power development plan, he noted, adding that the newly-reached strategic cooperation between the three major energy industries is expected to help address this problem.

Speaking at the signing ceremony, PetroVietnam President Tran Dinh Thuc asked EVN to enhance cooperation in the operation of PetroVietnam’s gas-fuelled power plants, especially during the rainy season.

He called on EVN to speed up the negotiation and signing of contracts with PetroVietnam’s power plants such as Nhon Trach 1&2 power plans, Vung Ang coal-fuelled power plant, Dakring hydroelectric plant and Phu Quy wind power plant while speeding up the construction of the 220 kV Duyen Ha-Doc Soi power line connecting Dakring hydroelectricity plant and the national power grid.

On this occasion, Thuc suggested TKV’s leaders accelerate the negotiation of coal selling contracts with PetroVietnam thermal power plant.-

HAGL opens new rubber plant in Laos

Hoang Anh Gia Lai Group (HAGL) put into operation a latex processing plant in Attapeu Province in the neighboring country of Laos on Monday.

The Hoang Anh Attapeu rubber latex processing plant, costing US$9 million, has an annual designed processing capacity of 25,000 tons. The facility, covering five hectares, consists of production lines, an office section, warehouse, dorm for workers, and other auxiliary amenities.

Doan Nguyen Duc, chairman of HAGL, said his company had cultivated 44,000 hectares of rubber in Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia as of the end of the 2012. Rubber development is part of the strategic expansion of HAGL.

HAGL has studied, surveyed and grown the first rubber trees in Laos since 2005. The group has also developed more rubber growing areas in Vietnam and Cambodia.

The group’s top executive said many rubber consumers had contacted HAGL for rubber.

“During the process of building up material supply areas and rubber latex plants, HAGL has attracted the attention of several large tire producers worldwide. France’s Michelin and Dunlop and Bridgestone have repeatedly flown to Vietnam to find ways to set up partnership with HAGL,” Duc said.

Specially, Duc noted, Michelin’s experts have directly worked with HAGL and provided the group with consultant services to construct its factories and ensure products’ quality. They have even proposed purchasing all rubber products to be produced in Laos, he added.

Rubber productivity of HAGL is expected to reach 2.5 tons a hectare. When all rubber farming areas of the group reach the harvesting age, the total rubber volume to be collected will amount to up to 100,000 tons, generating an expected income of US$300 million for HAGL annually.

Int’l ‘gold swap’ to be completed next month

The temporary export of gold bars of non-SJC brands and re-import of solid gold is proceeding well and will be officially completed on March 10, said an official of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV).

Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the central bank’s HCMC Branch, said 500 kilograms of gold of Dong A was exported on Monday and the same volume would be imported and processed into SJC gold bars today. There will be around 1.5 tons of gold of Dong A and Techcombank to be processed this week, raising the gold volume since February 8 to 1.6 tons.

The gold volume at home that needs to be swapped is around ten tons, or 266,000 taels. After being processed, the gold volume supplied for the market will increase as many banks had advanced gold for depositors earlier and thus would have ample amounts in stock.

Together with this move, SBV will start gold bar trading with credit institutions next month, expecting to narrow the gap between the domestic and the global gold price.

SBV is completing necessary legal procedures for the trade. SBV will directly purchase gold with institutions and gold firms with the price set by the governor of SBV.

The price gap in recent days has been widened to over VND5.2 million per tael, which is the widest gap ever, and dropped slightly by VND100,000 per tael on Monday. The increasing gold demand, the lack of connection between the domestic gold market and the global one and the unchanged supply have made the domestic price continue to far exceed the global one.

Nguyen Cong Tuong, deputy sales manager of Saigon Jewelry Company (SJC), said that the wide domestic-global price gap partly resulted from the foreign exchange rate. Specifically, the rate was VND20,880 early last week but amounted to VND21,000 to the U.S. dollar on Thursday, he added.

SMBC pledges continued support for Eximbank

Sumimoto Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC) will continue giving supports to Vietnam Export Import Commercial Joint Stock Bank (Eximbank) in many fields, especially in risk management, said Hiroshi Minoura, a board member and deputy general director of SMBC, at the ceremony to mark the five-year strategic partnership between the two lenders.

Minoura told the function in HCMC on Friday that Vietnam’s banking system is experiencing many difficulties, including soaring bad debts, prompting all banks to pay attention to risk management. Therefore, SMBC, a large Japanese bank, will assist Eximbank in this field to prevent adverse impacts of bad debts on the local lender’s operations.

During five years of strategic cooperation, SMBC has advised and suggested Eximbank to improve planning capacity and risk management system in line with international standards. Accordingly, Eximbank has improved its credit policy and concentrated credit management model and strengthened risk management in lending, capital, gold and currency business areas, Minoura said.

Minoura noted that SMBC and Eximbank would have to compete with many strong rivals from Japan in the coming time after Mizuho Corporate Bank acquired a 15% stake in Vietcombank in January, 2012 and Tokyo Mitsubishi UFJ Bank has held a 20% stake in Vietinbank. However, the senior executive expected that the five-year partnership and other advantages in strong relationship, effort and determination of staff will help the SMBC-Eximbank alliance to provide better services than latecomers.

To further improve competitiveness, SMBC will assist Eximbank in boosting retail banking as it has done over the past time. Specifically, SMBC has helped Eximbank in attracting Japanese customers in Vietnam to expand its customer base, and setting up retail banking plans in medium and long term.

SMBC will also send experts to Vietnam to deploy projects with Eximbank such as developing new product packages, bolstering card business, boosting automobile loan programs and improving product quality management to meet diversified demands of customers.

Recalling on the establishment of this alliance, Minoura said that Asia-Pacific was the core location in SMBC’s business strategy with Vietnam being an important market. Therefore, SMBC had to look for a partner that could absorb its techniques to keep developing as a private commercial bank and contribute to development of Vietnam economy. “And we have found a qualified partner, Eximbank,” Minoura said.

Over the past years, SMBC has supported Eximbank in accessing international capital sources at reasonable costs and boosting liquidity with inter-bank lending limit, trade finance and guarantee. Besides, SMBC has helped Eximbank select and apply advanced information technology and train its staff. Thanks to such supports, Eximbank has made a great growth rate in both scale and operation quality.

“From a bank having a charter capital of VND2.8 trillion and total assets of VND33 trillion in 2007, Eximbank has spurred its chartered capital to over VND12.3 trillion and total assets of over VND170 trillion at the end of 2012,” said Eximbank general director Truong Van Phuoc.

Japanese Consul General in HCMC Harumitsu Hida expected that thanks to this partnership, Eximbank will continue speeding up banking corporate management to become a bank that will not only expand retail banking in the country but also contribute to the development of commercial relationship between the two nations through financing Vietnamese and Japanese enterprises in the import and export sector.

Hida said Japanese firms are enhancing their presence in the city. As of February, the Japanese Enterprises Association had 617 members, a strong rise compared to the same period of last year. Japan took the lead in foreign investment capital in Vietnam last year with around US$5.1 billion. This is a chance for Vietnam in general and the banking network in particular.

SMBC and Eximbank agreed to enter into the Strategic Alliance Agreement in 2007. SMBC now holds a 15% stake in the local bank.

Speaking to the Daily, Eximbank chairman Le Hung Dung said that SMBC wanted to raise its ownership but foreign ownership in Eximbank has reached the ceiling level.

SMBC currently is the biggest shareholder in Eximbank, followed by Vietcombank with 8.19% and VOF Fund of VinaCapital with 5.02%.

Entrepreneurs regain optimism

Despite many gloomy forecasts for the economy in 2013, local entrepreneurs are no longer pessimistic and are well prepared to cope with any future storm, according to a survey of top companies in the country.

For the first time since early 2011, optimistic businessmen have outnumbered pessimistic ones, shows findings of a survey conducted by Vietnam Report in January among leaders of the top 500 companies in Vietnam, with 225 survey sheets collected.

Having on hand their preliminary business results, the macroeconomic indicators for 2012 and the plans for 2013, over 62% of the respondents expected their revenue would increase this year. Meanwhile, less than 15% of those surveyed worried that their revenue would decline.

More than half of respondents planned to hire more employees in 2013, which is also a good sign, the report remarks. If their recruitment plans were implemented, the number of jobless laborers would be reduced and the social security burden would be eased.

This is a monumental change compared to the last survey in November, with up to 75% of the respondents predicting their business situation would remain bleak or worsen with only 25% believing in better business in 2013.

Four consecutive surveys since mid-2011 have recorded a pessimistic mentality of entrepreneurs at the country’s largest enterprises.

According to the latest survey, business owners considered inflation, global economic volatility, changes in macroeconomic policies of the Government and higher input costs as the major factors likely to affect their business performance.

Other factors such as the ability to protect intellectual property and customer data, the speed of technological innovation or changes in consumer behavior were predicted to not greatly impact business activities this year.

The main reason for this attitude transformation of the business community lies in the relative macroeconomic stability in 2012. Although economic growth and demand remained low, the policy environment and the business environment seemed more predictable.

In addition, many large enterprises in Vietnam, having gone through so many difficulties and crises in the past two years, drew up contingency plans to deal with the possibility of a worsening economic situation in the next few years.

“This suggests the Government should resolutely continue to place macroeconomic stability on priority, boost economic restructuring and improve investment efficiency,” says the report.

“Hasty moves with an aim to rescue this market or that market, or an increase of public investment to stimulate economic growth, accompanied by a risk of macroeconomic instability and rising inflation, will be a bitter medicine for the rekindled confidence of the business community.”

FDI falls sharply this month

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in February sharply declined against the same period last year, after the country enjoyed a positive FDI attraction result in January.

So far this month, 62 fresh FDI projects with total registered capital of US$275 million have been granted investment certificates, while 22 operational projects had raised their capital by a combined US$74 million, says the latest report of the Foreign Investment Agency (FIA) under the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

In the first two months (as of February 20), Vietnam attracted 99 FDI new projects with total pledged capital of US$532 million, equivalent to 46.1% of the amount lured in the same period last year. Meanwhile, 31 operational projects increased their capital by US$98.3 million, 19.7% of the year-ago figure.

In total, the country has lured over US$630 million of fresh and additional FDI capital in the year to date, down 61.9% year-on-year. FIA ascribes this massive drop to the lack of new large-scale projects in the first two months.

In the same period last year, many projects with registered capital of hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars each were given investment certificates. They included the US$574-million Bridgestone Vietnam project, US$180-million project of Oshima Shipbuilding Vietnam and US$150-million Lock & Lock Living development.

Consulting companies remarked that the number of large-scale FDI projects is falling sharply.

Although FDI pledges fell considerably, FDI disbursement remained satisfactory, says FIA. In the year to date, an estimated US$1.05 billion has been disbursed, up 5% over the same period in 2012.

Disbursement is considered the main target of the planning ministry in FDI attraction this year.

In the first two months, foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) recorded a 27.3% increase in exports, estimated at US$12.1 billion, accounting for 64.34% of the nation’s total export turnover. With crude oil excluded, exports of FIEs fetched US$11 billion, a rise of 27.5% year-on-year.

Meanwhile, FIEs imported US$9.24 billion worth of products in the first two months, picking up 13% year-on-year and standing at 53.41% of the total import spending of the country. As such, the foreign-invested sector achieved a trade surplus of US$2.96 billion, versus a trade surplus of US$1.67 billion of the whole nation.

Japan topped the list of foreign investors in Vietnam with US$258 million of newly-registered and additional capital, making up 40.9% of the total FDI attracted in the first two months. Taiwan was second with US$81.4 million, or 12.9% of the total FDI, followed by Singapore with US$56 million, 8.9%.

Manufacturing-processing continued to lure the most FDI, with 44 new projects and total fresh and additional capital of US$408.9 million, accounting for 64.9% of the total pledged capital. Healthcare and real estate were in second and third places with US$80 million and US$50.2 million respectively.

February sees growth in Russian arrivals only

Tourist arrivals from Russia have grown well this month, but figures from all other markets slumped, resulting in a drop of nearly 12.5% year-on-year in February, according to the General Statistics Office (GSO).

There have been nearly 570,000 tourists coming to Vietnam this month, raising the total number of international in the year’s first two months to over 1.21 million, which is equivalent to 90.4% of the same period last year. This is the first drop in international arrivals in as many months.

The group of visitors traveling for leisure has seen the strongest decline and is equal to only 80.6% of last February.

What is notable in the month is that all visitor-generating markets of Vietnam’s tourism have declined, except for Russia with nearly 28,300 tourists and a growth of 38.3% on-month.

Anatoly V. Borovik, Russian consul general in HCMC, said that Russian tourists visited Vietnam mainly for leisure in Khanh Hoa, Binh Thuan, Ba Ria-Vung Tau and Kien Giang provinces. There were up to 200,000 Russian tourists coming to Vietnam last year, he added.

According to GSO, over 54,000 Russians have come to Vietnam in the first two months, accounting for one-fourth of the total number of Russian tourists recorded last year.

While the overall number of international tourists has declined, HCMC still achieves a growth of 8% this month with around 360,000 international tourists. Besides, the total number of international tourists arriving in HCMC in the January-February period is estimated to reach 701,000, up 8.6% year-on-year.

Metro Line 2 underground section to start year-end

The underground section of Metro Line No. 2 in HCMC will start rolling by the end of the year, said Le Khac Huynh, deputy head of the HCMC Urban Railway Management Board.

He confirmed the management board was choosing a contractor for this component. A fence and guard booth has been set up at Tham Luong Depot in District 12 and the maintenance station will be developed together with the main construction package after bidding ends, Huynh told the Daily.

“If everything goes smoothly, construction packages will be given to contractors in July and August so that work will start on the underground section on Cach Mang Thang Tam Street later this year. Construction will be completed in December 2017 and the metro line will pass a six-month trial run before starting official operations,” he said.

Regarding Metro Line No. 1, he said the contractor was now carrying out geological exploration. The overhead section along Hanoi Highway will kick off in March, while the underground section from Ben Thanh Station to the City Opera House is wrapping up the bidding procedures.

In addition to Metro Line No. 1 and Metro Line No. 2, the HCMC Urban Railway Management Board will start talks with Spain over a loan agreement for the first phase of Metro Line No. 5 running from Bay Hien Intersection to Saigon Bridge.

Besides, the board will form site clearance boundaries for district governments to manage and promote the construction of metro lines 3a, 3b and 6. It will also finalize the plan for Metro Line No. 4 and begin site leveling for metro lines 3b and 4.

Metro Line No. 1 connecting Ben Thanh Market and Suoi Tien Theme Park is 19.7 kilometers long, including a 2.6-km underground section and a 17.1-km overhead one. There will be 14 stations, three underground and 11 elevated ones, along the route.

The project is scheduled for completion in 2017 and operation in 2018. The initial cost of the project was US$1.09 billion, but due to adjustments in some components and the exchange rate fluctuations, the total investment cost has risen to US$2.07 billion.

Meanwhile, Metro Line No. 2 runs from Thu Thiem New Urban Area in District 2 to An Suong Coach Station in District 12, stretching nearly 20 kilometers. During the first phase, HCMC will build the 11-km section from Ben Thanh to Tham Luong.

The project requires US$1.37 billion, in which the Asian Development Bank (ADB) will lend US$540 million, the German Development Bank (KfW) US$313 million and the European Investment Bank (EIB) US$195 million. The remaining US$326 million will be sourced from the nation’s budget.

Binh Thuan to restrict titanium mining

Binh Thuan Province will only allow titanium extraction and deep processing in Luong Son in the northern district of Bac Binh, and will not grant new licenses for mining in other areas.

Nguyen Ngoc, vice chairman of Binh Thuan, told the Daily that the province and the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment had specified the restriction in the zoning plan for titanium mining in Binh Thuan. The plan has just been submitted to the Prime Minister for approval and will be announced soon.

The environment ministry has recently put the total titanium reserves in Binh Thuan at an estimated 600 million tons, accounting for 92% of the country’s reserves. Particularly, an area of around 150 square kilometers in northern Binh Thuan with a tap reserve of some 142 million tons is available for extraction.

According to the zoning plan for titanium mining to be announced soon, Binh Thuan will only allow the previously licensed projects to continue their operations. The province will not issue licenses for new mining projects in other areas.

Ngoc said the provincial government had asked the Government for permission to build two industrial parks specializing in deep processing of titanium and other minerals for export. They are Song Binh Industrial Park covering 250 hectares in Bac Binh District and Thang Hai Industrial Zone covering 40 hectares in Ham Tan District.

According to the government of Binh Thuan Province, Luong Son in Bac Binh District has a huge reserve of titanium, especially in the depth of 60 meters. As per the zoning plan for titanium mining, titanium must be deeply processed rather than being exported in its crude form.

Previously, there were 18 titanium mining projects in the southern coastal area of Binh Thuan, but they were scattered, affecting the environment. The province has halted these projects and will bring them to Thang Hai Industrial Zone for centralized extraction and processing of titanium ores.

Vinamilk cuts online Viettel deal

Vinamilk last Thursday signed a contract with Viettel for the deployment of an online sales management system provided by the military-run telecom firm.

The system will help improve the effectiveness of sales management. After a trial period in HCMC, it will be applied to over 200 distributors, 2,000 salespeople and 200,000 retailers of Vinamilk across the country.

The sales management system consists of hardware, software and terminals connected to the Internet. It will help Vinamilk’s distributors, salespeople and sales managers stay linked on unified software and centralized database.

The company’s sales staff members will be given tablets with connection to the 3G network, global positioning system (GPS) and digital camera, which will update information on Vinamilk products at each outlet.

Mai Kieu Lien, general director of Vinamilk, said application of information technology (IT) would help the company increase its ability to respond to market developments, and improve service quality and corporate governance.

Tong Viet Trung, deputy general director of Viettel, said IT application in enterprises is facing an obstacle caused by huge initial investment and investment risks. Therefore, Viettel will invest first and invite enterprises to try later.

Incoming remittances forecast at US$8.9 billion

The remittances sent home totaled some US$8.9 billion last year as recorded by the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) and the authority now is reviewing the figure which is expected to slightly change later.

Well-informed sources told the Daily that the figure is collected based on the real money flows of the central bank’s balance of payments which shows the most reliable numbers of the outgoing and incoming money flows of the country at present.

It is noted that the US$8.9 billion is far different from over US$10 billion that Minister of Foreign Affairs Pham Binh Minh told the program “Citizens Ask-Ministers Answer” of the Vietnam Television Station released last Sunday. Vietnam now ranks seventh in the list of countries receiving the highest remittance volumes in the world according to Minh.

Total incoming remittances in 2011 were about US$9 billion as reported by the State Committee for Overseas Vietnamese but the official announcement from SBV only puts the figure at around US$8.8 billion.

“We are changing the statistics method for the balance of payments to classify incoming and outgoing money flows and remittances more accurately,” said an official of the central bank.

He noted that the new method will help classify incoming remittances, including the volume from Vietnamese guest-workers overseas and the amount from overseas Vietnamese people as well as how the amounts are invested at home. In fact, the central bank has failed to get such data so far, he added.

Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the central bank’s HCMC Branch, told the Daily in a seminar in HCMC in early January that the city’s remittance reached approximately US$4.1 billion in 2012.

Some 23% of the amount was poured into the property sector, focusing on the on-going projects, while 70% went to business and production and the remainder as supports to needy relatives, Minh clarified. The remittance for the whole country in 2012 was not as high as the US$11 billion as reported early this year, he added.

Microsoft willing to help HCMC develop IT infrastructure

HCMC vice chairman Le Manh Ha had a working session with Microsoft Vietnam’s general director Vu Minh Tri on Monday, focusing on Microsoft’s assistance to the city.

At the meeting, both sides at first discussed solutions and equipment for carrying out a smart city project.

According to vice chairman Ha, the project is aimed at using information technology (IT) to connect relevant authorities. He expected the project would not only help improve the effectiveness of the local administrative mechanism but also allow the city’s leaders to handle problems in a timely manner.

Meanwhile, Tri said that Microsoft will continue to support Vietnam in manpower training and that the firm is able to help the city build up IT infrastructure.

The issue on software copyright was also discussed at the meeting. Ha repeated the plan “to buy software having copyright for State agencies and large companies” and Tri responded that Microsoft is willing to help the city in legal software usage.

Seafood experts discuss climate change threat

Sustainable aquaculture in the face of climate change challenges and food safety were major concerns for members of the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) currently meeting in Can Tho City.

Representatives from 18 NACA member nations are attending a three-day meeting that closes today.

Vu Van Tam, Deputy Minister Agriculture and Rural Development, said the NACA 24th annual conference offers members an opportunity to exchange information on achievements, experiences and challenges facing aquaculture in each country and the region as a whole.

The conference will also boost co-operation between NACA members and international organisations in developing sustainable aquaculture and ensuring food safety in member countries, Tam said.

NACA members are: Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, Hong Kong of China, India, Indonesia, Iran, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, South Korea, Thailand and Viet Nam.

According to NACA, annual per capita aquaproduct consumption in the Asia-Pacific region is about 29kg.

Since 2011, Viet Nam’s aquaculture sector has posted annual production of more than 3 million tonnes with an average growth rate of about 16 per cent per year, said Nguyen Huy Dien, Deputy head of Viet Nam’s Directorate of Fisheries.

“Although aquaculture production has contracted or stagnated in Japan, the US, and some European countries, global production will continue to rise, creating opportunities for many countries and states in the coming years,” said Dien.

“Our NACA member states are still leading aquaculture production in the world,” he said.

Aquaculture has made crucial contributions to food and nutritional security, especially in underdeveloped and developing countries.

“Asian countries, particularly China, Viet Nam, India, Indonesia and Bangladesh, have benefited from the culture of low tropic-level species such as carp, tilapia and Pangasius catfish,” said Dien.

“Millions of jobs have been created to maintain stable sources of income and livelihood for a significant segment of the population directly or indirectly engaged in aquaculture in our member states,” he added.

However, recent rapid developments in world aquaculture have spotlighted several challenges including the ongoing financial and economic crisis, greater climate change vulnerabilities and extreme weather events, degradation and pollution of coastal, marine and fresh water environments, diseases, and abuse of chemicals and drugs in fish farming.

He said the impacts and consequences of climate change on aquaculture should be paid careful attention.

Aquaculture is known to be very sensitive to climate variables and high levels of exposure to natural hazards and climate change impacts, said Dien.

“Therefore, I strongly recommend that the NACA continues to play an important role in promoting sustainable aquaculture in the region and assist member states with aquaculture development programs,” he said.

“We also need to strengthen technical co-operation and provide guidance to member states with the aim of achieving higher production efficiency and introducing better aquaculture practices and for long-term sustainability add prosperity for all.”

He asked the governments of NACA members to consider adopting and implementing a number of policies to support responsible and sustainable aquaculture development as well as to respond to and recover from impacts and consequences of climate change.

“We also need to co-operate with each other to help aquaculture production in some areas, to prevent disease outbreaks, control environmental pollution and resolve conflicts arising from the use of natural resources,” said Dien.

Promising prospects for Tra producers

Orders for Vietnam Tra fish from European Union (EU) countries are gradually increasing after a long gloomy period, said the General Secretary of the Vietnam Association for Seafood Exporters and Producers.

According to general secretary Truong Dinh Hoe, the EU remained one of the major importers of Vietnam’s Tra fish, in large part due to the reasonable export price of Vietnamese fish in contrast to seafood from other countries.

Additionally, he said the export price of Vietnamese Tra fish to the EU has been rising as consumers demanded quality products, driving the selling price up.

An increasing number of Vietnamese seafood exporters have met EU standards for farmed Tra fish.

Recently, five more domestic Tra fish producers and processors received the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC)’s aquaculture production certificate, bringing the number of local firms with ASC certification to 13.

In order to obtain this recognition, a Tra fish producer of breeders must meet certain criteria on their environment and social impact, such as engaging in responsible land and water usage and minimizing water pollution.

In 2012, Vietnam exported US$425 million worth of Tra fish to the EU, a decrease of 19 percent in value compared to 2011, according to the association’s statistics.

The association and local seafood exporters are heavily promoting future Tra fish exports to the EU, Hoe said.

The association will cooperate with ministries and other sectors to organize seminars advertising Vietnamese Tra fish large trade fairs in Europe.

“The adverts will include information about products as well as the production process, from raising the fish to packaging the finished products for export,” he said.

Source: VEF/VNA/VNS/VOV/SGT/SGGP/Dantri/VIR

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