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Small- and FTAs offer business opportunitiesmedium-sized enterprises should learn how to take advantage of new Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) that will take effect within the near future, ministry officials have urged.

Vuong Duc Anh, a high-ranking official with the Ministry of Industry and Trade’s Import-Export Department, said that SMEs were often not aware of the benefits of trade agreements with other countries.

Anh, along with other leading officials, spoke at a seminar on Monday with representatives of Japanese companies based in Viet Nam.

Viet Nam is currently negotiating FTAs with the EU and Hong Kong as well as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement with Canada and the US.

The FTAs, once signed, will lower tariffs on both sides, thus increasing both import and export activities.

Although this will result in an even more competitive trade environment, local companies taking part in FTAs will have the opportunity to increase exports while enjoying lower or zero tariffs.

Also speaking at the seminar, Kurihara Yoshitaka, of the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), urged Viet Nam to make further efforts in trade liberalisation.

According to Kurihara, Japan’s use of FTAs or Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) in Viet Nam, remains low, at 33.5 per cent, while the figure in Indonesia is 58.5 per cent.

Cao Thanh Diep, head of the multi-trade policy department at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, said that all companies, including SMEs, should take advantage of such trade agreements.

She said that trade agreements over the last two decades had attracted greater foreign investment flows to Viet Nam and had encouraged bilateral trade.

They also had the effect of improving the country’s economic restructuring and the competitiveness of local enterprises, Diep added.

“At least, in the short and medium term, we see benefits from signing free trade agreements,” she said.

As a result of such agreements, Viet Nam’s policies had become more transparent, and had helped create a favourable environment for foreign investment in high technology, Diep added.

The manufacturing sector’s competitiveness had also improved, more jobs were created and the poverty rate was lowered, she said.

However, she pointed out that the country, although it had eliminated its trade deficit last year, could face further economic challenges.

“There is not much time for Viet Nam before the formation of the ASEAN Economic Community in 2015, so we should prepare for this now and consider it a top priority,” Diep said.

Garments and textiles

With new trade agreements on the horizon, Viet Nam’s garment and textile industry is expected to see faster growth.

The industry’s export turnover in 2012 reached US$17.2 billion, and in the first quarter of this year, turnover was US$4.2 billion, a 19 per cent increase over the same period last year.

However, export growth in textiles and garments to the EU has been lower than growth in the US, Japan and South Korea.

With the TPP agreement with Canada and the US also being currently negotiated, Viet Nam is expected to increase its share of the global garment and textile market to 12 to 13 per cent.

The TPP is also expected to attract more foreign investment and add value to Vietnamese products. —VNS

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