Thứ Bảy, 31 tháng 1, 2015

From yucky to yummy: 10 Vietnamese dishes that really cross the line

News website VnExpress has just released a list of Vietnamese dishes that may give you a heart attack but many say are very delicious. 
1. Nậm pịa 
This is a traditional dish of ethnic Thai people in the northern mountainous region. It is a soup cooked from a fluid taken from a cow’s intestine, frozen blood and internal organs of cows, horses and goats. 
This dish tastes a bit bitter and spicy. It is a favorite among locals during winter market sessions in mountainous areas.
A nậm pịa bowl 
2. Rat meat 
The rat here is paddy rat, and they eat mostly grass, sweet potatoes, cassava and rice. So its meat is said to be healthy and delicious. It can be cooked in different ways -- grilled, fried or stir-fried. 
Paddy rats are widely consumed across Vietnam, from the Red River Delta in the north to the country's rice basket, the Mekong Delta, in the south.
Grilled rats
3. Coconut worm 
The soft, fatty and wriggling worm may terrify many, but it is a very favorite dish in the Mekong Delta. It can be grilled, fried or steamed.
Probably the most terrifying way to eat these coconut worms is to drop the still living ones into fish sauce until the worms are soaked in the sauce, and then you pick each worm and put it into your mouth.
Coconut worms soaked in fish sauce
4. Salamander 
Salamander is a wild reptile found mostly in sand hills in Binh Thuan Province.
It is usually grilled or stewed with Chinese medicinal herbs, or it can be used to make salad dishes and cooked into soup. 
Its meat is said to be nutritious and delicious. 

Grilled salamander
5. Scorpion 
In the past, scorpion was usually soaked in wine and consumed as a traditional medicing.
In recent years it has fallen into the frying pans of restaurants. It is usually deep fried or grilled. 
Deep-fried scorpions 
6. Cicada 
Cicada is another favorite dish in the Mekong Delta, particularly the province of Vinh Long.
It can be soaked in a tempura-like batter and deep fried, or cooked with rice porridge.
People usually catch cicadas during their moulting process when they are shedding their skins, as the cicadas, they say, taste the best then.
Deep-fried cicadas 
7. Snake 
Snake is a speciality of the Mekong Delta. It can be cooked into many different dishes, including snake hotpot, snake porridge, fried snake, grilled snake, stewed snake and snake salad.
A snake hotpot
8. Bamboo shoots' worm 
This dish is usually served during rainy season in mountainous areas of Thanh Hoa Province.
Bamboo shoots’ worms can be soaked in wine or cooked into various dishes. It is said to be highly nutritious, tasty and healthy.
Fried bamboo shoot worms
9. Cricket 
Cricket is a favorite in the Mekong Delta provinces of Tra Vinh, An Giang and Can Tho.
During rainy season, the crickets in the delta are fat. They are caught and then deep fried by farmers. There are also some farms in which crickets are commercially farmed to be sold to restaurants.
Deep-fried crickets
10. Chinese bamboo rat 
The Chinese bamboo rat is found in mountainous areas of the Central Highlands and northern Vietnam.
Its meat can be steamed, fried or stewed. It has become a speciality of the mountains given its tastiness and rich protein.
A Chinese bamboo rat being grilled
Thanh Nien News
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Water supply, wastewater treatment plants to be built in Mekong Delta region
A dozen water supply and wastewater treatment plants are scheduled to be built in the Mekong Delta region before 2020 to improve water supply and wastewater-treatment capacity across the region.
The plans were discussed at a meeting with representatives from the Ministry of Construction on building the regional plant system, held in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho on January 28.
Vo Thi Hong Anh, Vice Chairman of the Can Tho People’s Committee, said the Government plans to build three water supply plants with a combined daily capacity of 4.2 million cubic metres between 2015 and 2020.
The Song Hau 1 plant, to be built in Can Tho, is intended to have a full daily capacity of 1,000,000 cubic metres, supplying water to Can Tho city, neighbouring province Soc Trang, and communities along the western banks of the Hau River. Ben Tre and Tra Vinh provinces would also within the reach of the plant.
The Song Hau 2 plant, planned in Chau Thanh district in An Giang province and with a full daily capacity of 2,000,000 cubic metres, will pump water to Can Tho and An Giang, Kien Giang, Ca Mau and Hau Giang provinces.
The Song Hau 3 plant in Chau Doc town, An Giang, will be able to supply 500,000 cubic metres daily for residents in An Giang and Kien Giang.
Wastewater treatment plants are also scheduled to be constructed during the same period; Can Tho looks to build four plants with a combined capacity of 86,000 cubic metres per day.
Long Xuyen city in An Giang, Rach Gia city in Kien Giang and Ca Mau city in Ca Mau will each build three wastewater treatment plants capable of treating a combined 34,500 cubic metres per day in Long Xuyen, 33,000 cubic metres per day in Rach Gia, and 34,500 cubic metres per day in Ca Mau.
Simultaneously, the provinces in the region will upgrade existing wastewater treatment plants, contributing to minimising environmental pollution and limiting rain flooding to ensure stable and sustainable socio-economic development in the region.
Academic urges overhaul of higher education
Vietnamese prize education, and are willing to spend billions of USD sending their children overseas to school, but the country lacks even a basic university system of its own to nurture its own teachers, a leading academic has said.
Professor Ngo Bao Chau, who won the Fields medal in 2010, said tertiary education in Vietnam was the worst among eduction levels in the country, adding it was unacceptable that people had to send their children abroad to get an education.
He said that while there had been progress in education for children, such the shift away from the traditional marks-based system so teachers could more directly address the needs of first graders, and there had been positive changes in compiling curriculums and textbooks, the country needed to put higher education at the centre of any academic reform process.
Chau said tertiary education was substandard, mainly because of incompetent teachers and managers, and a lack of funding.
“While Vietnamese closely care for their children’s study at the basic education level, it seems to be out of their reach when their children enter higher education," Chau said. Parents ended up having to finance the education of their children at upper levels, rather than it being a state responsibility.
He said education reform was hard to achieve in the short-term, but the public needed to be aware of the need for reform and engage in active debate so there could be agreement about what the country wants and needs.
It should not be left to the government to decide, but should be supported by the whole of society, and to that end weaknesses and strengths should be examined, along with how the system could be improved.
"In-service and distance training has become a growing issue of tertiary education that seriously affects training quality," Chau said, "The Ministry of Education and Training (MoET) should only faciliate the development of standard training insitutions and strictly deal with those with bad quality.
“I do think that it’s a good idea to allow universities to be financially self-governing. However, they still continue to need support from state budget to ensure their survival. It's irrational to lower state budget funding, but ban univerisities from raising tuition fees, forcing them to struggle to survive.”
Chau said higher education needs more support from communities recognising the key role higher education plays in Vietnam's development.
He said the MoET’s plan to train 20,000 doctorates as part of the effort to intensify tertiary education quality was to be commended.
“This is a good policy as world-class universities only employ lecturers with doctorates, instead of relying on university graduates as in Vietnam. More attention should be paid to the quality of docterate training in this country,” Chau said.
Female trafficking a growing problem in Nghe An Province
Women are allegedly being targeted by traffickers in Nghe An Province, with local police saying at least 38 have been taken to China.
The targets are married and single women, and children, from Luu Tien Highlands Village in Chieu Luu Comune of Ky Son District, home to Kho-mu ethnic minority people.
Some 148 hourseholds occupy the village, representing nearly 650 people. Police said at least 38 local women have been allegedly trafficked to neighbouring China.
“Victims were invited by some acquaintances to work away from home with the offer of high salaries and better living conditions," said Moong Van Que, a policeman in the village. "Mediators even gave victims’ families some money in advance as security. They did not return home or contact with their families after their leave,”
Notably, many local children have recently gone missing after leaving home for boarding schools. The number of such children has reached 16. Some are primary students while others are secondary students. The situation has triggered worries among parents that they might have been kidnapped and smuggled to China.
Cut Thanh Son, head of Luu Thang Highlands Hamlet of the same commune, said the village has reported nearly 50 missing people. “Many people have yet to make any contact with their homes while some others have called home informing that they have got married with Chinese men.”
A 21-year-old woman from the village was trafficked to China in 2012. She was married to a Chinese man and they have had a daughter. In early 2014, she fled from China to visit her family in Vietnam, but she returned to China, worried about the fate of her daughter.
In another family, a 30-year-old woman was trafficked to China and had a child there. A short time later her husband’s 21-year-old younger sister was offered work in the South, but was trafficked to China and made a concubine. Their family did not have any contact with them until the sister-in-law called home.
“Women trafficking mainly happens in remote and mountainous areas where victims are gullible and too trusting about believing offers of work with high incomes," said Nguyen Truong Thi, head of drug crime prevention and control office under the provincial border guard. "Many traffickers were ever victims of such swindling and return home to seduce others.”
Investigation and prevention efforts are hindered by a lack of funding, Thi said.
HCM City to upgrade workforce's skills
Ho Chi Minh City will implement measures to improve the quality of vocational training and raise the number of trained workers to 72 percent of the city's total employees this year from the rate of 68 percent in 2014, according to the municipal Department of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.
Vocational training schools will recruit about 401,000 students this year, Nguoi Lao Dong (Labourer) newspaper quoted the source as saying.
Last year, vocational training schools recruited more than 443,500 students and provided training for 2,000 poor labourers, 1,090 people with disabilities and 611 ethnic minority youth.
Tay Ninh plans 11 social housing projects
To meet the housing demand of low-income earners, the southern province of Tay Ninh will build seven social housing projects with 2,385 units to supply accommodation for nearly 10,000 people, and four others with over 2,000 rooms for nearly 20,000 workers at industrial parks.
The 11 projects will cost nearly 2.13 trillion VND (99.9 million USD), of which 16 billion VND is from the provincial budget and the rest from investors, reported Thoi Bao Kinh Te Viet Nam (Vietnam Economic Times).
The province will speed up detailed zoning plans for these projects, pay all costs for site clearance, and invest in infrastructure.
HCM City asked to set up food control, ensure safety
Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam has instructed Ho Chi Minh City authorities to tighten management of food products at wholesale markets and supermarkets to ensure food safety and hygiene.
Food-testing points were set up at the three biggest wholesale markets in the city to make sure food products meet hygiene standards before entering the market, he said at a working session with municipal authorities on January 27.
The city should also build a roadmap to protect consumers, and assure that food products from other localities meet hygiene standards before being transported into the city, he said.
These regulations will not cause difficulties for farmers, they will help them become familiar with new production standards that will improve their products' values, Dam said.
He also pointed to the need for relevant ministries and agencies to build a more effective information dissemination plan to raise farmers' and businesses' awareness about food hygiene and safety.
"If we didn't put in place strict measures now to ensure food safety and hygiene, it would cost more later to provide health check-ups and treatment for people who got sick from dangerous food products," he said.
Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said city authorities should increase inspections all year round, not just during Tet when people's demand for food products increased.
Le Thanh Liem, Vice Chairman of the HCM City People's Committee, said the city has more than 20,000 street food establishments. In 2014, a city inspection found food safety violations at nearly 2,700 of them. Inspectors took more than 27,000 samples for testing and found that about 24,000 of them met hygiene standards.
City authorities organised free training courses on food safety and hygiene for more than 10,400 members of the food industry. Also, the city signed agreements with 22 localities on providing local consumers safe, hygienic food products, he said.
Hanoi expands methadone treatment for drug addicts
Two rehab centres using the methadone treatment method were opened at the HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Centre and Hospital 09 in Hanoi on January 27.
The expansion was part of the city’s plan to launch 11 treatment facilities accommodating 8,500 people by February this year, said Nguyen Khac Hien, Director of the municipal Department of Health.
Infrastructure facilities, equipment procurement and staff training are also among the programme priorities, Hien added.
In 2014, as many as 2,300 people who had drug addictions were treated with methadone in six local centres, helping reintegrate them into the community.
Currently, Hospital 09 cares for nearly 400 patients with HIV/AIDS receiving antiretroviral (ARV) therapy. Roughly 70-80 percent of the patients were previously drug addicts and are struggling to follow the strict treatment schedule.
The facilities will help ensure the effectiveness of the treatment while easing the financial burden on HIV patients and their families.
First EkoCenter launched to promote community well-being
The HCMC People’s Committee, the HCMC Federation of Women Associations and Coca-Cola Company have launched an EkoCenter in HCMC’s Thu Duc District, the first such facility in Asia.
EkoCenter brings solar power, safe drinking water and connectivity to communities, as well as a variety of goods, products and services, depending on local needs. It serves as the center of the community activities and is designed to help both the community and business flourish.
Irial Finan, executive vice president of Coca-Cola Company and president of the company’s Bottling Investments Group, said in a statement: “Our vision is for EkoCenters to spur economic and social development by providing a place where basic necessities are readily available and a place where the community can access services important to them, like online services. Coca-Cola is investing in these EkoCenters as part of our commitment to Vietnam’s social and economic development.”
Typically run by local female entrepreneurs, an EkoCenter serves as a center for community-based activities, while also serving as a public engagement center to promote active healthy living and raise environmental awareness through energy efficiency.
The EkoCenter in Thu Duc District is powered by Solarkiosk, a German company which is a key partner of the initiative globally.
Nguyen Thi Bich Ngoc, deputy director of the People Mobilization Committee, HCMC, said in a statement: “We appreciate Coca-Cola’s EkoCenter initiative. We hope that as it provides people with one of the very essential utilities such as safe drinking water, the EkoCenter launched in Thu Duc on January 28 and the next centers to be launched will be important public facilities serving to improve the living environment and everyday life conditions for the underserved community.
“To make the plan for future EkoCenters a reality, there should be a strong collaboration amongst the partners, and special attention and favorable conditions to be provided by the local authorities.”
Urban train project creates traffic chaos in Ha Noi
Building sites for Ha Noi's new overhead urban train project, including eight overhead stations, are hindering traffic on some of the capital's busiest routes.
The sites, in the centre of wide existing roads, accommodate large machines and workshops.
The site for the station No 8 in the centre of 23-metre wide Xuan Thuy Street in Cau Giay at present fill most of the road and run for 141m.
When work is completed in two years, the supports for the rail tracks and stations will take up about two metres of the existing road space, improving traffic flow considerably.
Work on the stations began in November last year, quickly bringing traffic to a crawl on the busy street.
It is common to see thousands of vehicles moving inch by inch during rush hours. Frustrated drivers often take to the footpaths in an effort to escape the traffic jam.
Despite effort by the police to direct traffic, the situation cannot improve because there is nowhere for the vehicles to go.
Hieu, a university student, who uses the street to go to school, said it takes him almost half an hour just to travel a few kilometres on his motorbike.
"Traffic is bad on this street. I have to leave the house almost an hour earlier to avoid being late for school," he said "I also stay at school after classes in the afternoon to avoid traffic hours. This means I end up going home late."
Luu, a senior resident in nearby Yen Hoa Commune, said heavy fumes belching from hundreds of vehicles was her biggest concern. She has to pick up her grandchildren from a kindergarten at the opposite end of the street five days a week.
The noise, smoke and smell of petrol make her concerned for the health of families in the area.
Other routes with traffic bottlenecks created by similar construction sites include Route 32 Cau Dien, Tran Phu Street in Ha Dong District.
Chairman of the city People's Committee Nguyen The Thao has ordered the city's Transport Department and traffic police to step up efforts to maintain traffic order.
The city also agreed to not to authorise additional construction projects in the area before the lunar holiday, or Tet.
Director of the Transport Department, Vu Van Vien, said the department would set up inspection teams to supervise the projects.
Overloaded boats remain a problem
Barges and boats travelling on waterway routes from HCM City to the Mekong Delta are ignoring regulations on overloaded cargo, while officials do not have sufficient means to control the worsening situation.
Demand for waterway transport has increased because of sand exports to Singapore, stone exports and imported raw materials for animal food from Cambodia, and demand for sand in HCM City and neighbouring provinces.
"If control is not tightened, the number of overloaded barges and boats will certainly increase," Tran Do Liem, vice chairman of Viet Nam Inland Waterway Transport Association, was quoted in Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.
About 1,400 vessels every day travel through the Cho Gao Canal in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang.
Most of them transport sand and stone for construction in HCM City and neighbouring provinces. Ninety per cent of the boats and barges are overloaded.
"If we transport only the allowed load, we will suffer loss," a steersman said.
Last year, traffic police in Tien Giang Province fined 13,140 waterway transport vessels for overloaded cargo shipped from My Thuan to Cho Gao.
In the Mekong Delta, along key waterway routes, construction activity is common at local households, storage sites, rice factories, shops and ports.
Many construction sites violate waterway routes, some reaching 12 -15m from the bank.
Overloaded vessels on narrow waterway routes are at high risk of accidents.
"It's not easy to deal with overloaded waterway transport, despite the fact that it is easy to see," said Vu Kim Lan, head of the second inspection team, of HCM City's Transport Department.
Vessel owners often have to pay other kinds of fines given by authorities in various localities.
In addition, low fines of VND2.5 million (US$120) for the first violation and VND3 million ($140) for the next violation have little impact on violators.
"We can only fine and then let them continue to move because we cannot unpack the overloaded commodities," Lan said.
Waterway transport vessels often carry thousands of tonnes of commodities and overloaded goods can reach several hundred tonnes.
Authorities do not have enough storage and cranes to unpack overloaded commodities.
In addition, HCM City has only one place with limited space in District 8 to keep barges that were in violation.
"The Ministry of Transport's Viet Nam Inland Waterways Administration has instructed all transport departments to significantly increase their fines on overloaded barges and boats," Phan Van Duy, deputy head of the Administration, said.
Control will be tightened at ports and relevant authorities will refuse to grant permission if vessels are overload, he added.
New plan sharpens ethnic minority focus
A three to four per cent reduction in the number of ethnic minority poor households each year is one of the main targets of a new five-year (2016-2020) plan targeting the minorities.
At a policy forum held in the capital city yesterday, officials explained that the new target was set in the context of ethnic minorities making up 56 per cent total number of poor households in the country.
This was the case despite a lot of policies on ethnic minority development issued by the Government over the last few decades, said Danh Ut, vice chairman of National Assembly's Ethnic Minority Council.
According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs, the country has about 1.8 million poor households at present.
Another goal of the new plan was to decrease the number of illiterate ethnic minority citizens by 1.5-2 per cent every year, said Nguyen Cao Thinh, an official with the Government's Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs.
Thinh said that an estimated 17.2 per cent of ethnic minority citizens above 10 years old are illiterate.
Viet Nam has over 8 million ethnic minority citizens spread over mountainous areas stretching from the north to the south.
Ut said the situation can be blamed on "asynchronous policies" and other shortcomings in policymaking, including the failure to consult and gather opinions of ethnic minorities before issuing a policy.
Overlaps in managing and implementing the policies worsened the situation, he said.
The Government should gather ideas from ethnic minorities before coming with policies and programmes specifically targeting their socio-economic development, he added.
Nguyen The Hoang, another official with the Government's Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs, suggested that a separate Law on Ethnicity be drafted and submitted to the National Assembly.
He also "strongly" recommended serious consideration be given to submitting to the parliament a proposal for establishing a Ministry for Ethnic Minority Affairs.
He hoped that such steps would prove effective in meeting the new five-year ethnic minority development targets.
United Nations Resident Co-ordinator Pratibha Mehta said Viet Nam's internationally recognised success, which has transformed the lives of millions of Vietnamese over the last 30 years, has not yet been shared by everyone.
In spite of commendable efforts and allocation of considerable resources, achievements related to ethnic minority communities in poverty reduction and meeting other millennium development goals lagged far behind the rest of the nation, she said.
"This is most clear in relation to poverty, where more than half the remaining poor come from minorities groups," she said.
Viable strategies for poverty eradication and rapid catching up of development in minority areas must become a central theme of the 2016-20 national socio-economic development plan, she said.
The annual forum, which was established in 2008, was co-hosted by the Committee for Ethnic Minority Affairs and the United Nations Development Programme.
It seeks to provide opportunities for Government agencies and international and local non-governmental organisations to discuss all aspects of ethnic minority affairs.
The main themes of this year's forum was mainstreaming ethnic minority development in the new five-year national socio-economic development plan's policy framework.
Strikes drop as negotiation skills improve
The number of labour strikes has fallen at garment companies as a result of training offered by provincial Labour Federations to local companies' trade unions, Dang Tan Dat, deputy head of the provincial Federation of Labour's laws and policies division, said.
Since 2009, the training project has taken place in the southern provinces of Binh Duong, Dong Nai and HCM City.
It is conducted by the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour with sponsorship from the International Labour Organisation and International NGO Union Aid Abroad APHEDA.
The number of strikes in the garment industry fell from 38 in 2011 to 10 in 2014 in the province, said Dat.
The project is called Strengthening Trade Union Capacity and Better Work Viet Nam.
It aims to improve the lives and working conditions of garment workers in Viet Nam through the development of a strong, representative and responsive labour movement, Hoang Thi Le Hang, country manager of Viet Nam–based Union Aid Abroad APHEDA, speaking at a recent conference about the programme.
The project also targets improved adherence to national labour laws and international labour standards.
Trade unions at companies receive training in understanding their rights and responsibilities under the law, and help in negotiation skills and labour agreements to ensure workers' rights, said Hang.
Dat, of the provincial Labour Federation, said that trade unions now work with managers to find ways to deal with workers' complaints in a timely fashion.
Many firms have adjusted provisions in labour agreements, including more benefits for workers.
Since the project began in 2009, many garment companies have been offering health exams for employees twice a year instead of once a year.
Mai Duc Chinh, vice chairman of the Viet Nam General Confederation of Labour, said the project would continue to be implemented in the provinces of Hai Duong, Tay Ninh and Long An and in Ha Noi through 2016.
The garment export industry is worth US$17.9 billion annually, accounting for 15 per cent of total exports in Viet Nam.
NZ shares its dam expertise
The first phase of a joint dam project between Viet Nam and New Zealand is nearing its end and entering into its final year. The project, improving dam safety with new technologies for warning-systems and risk-management, was the main topic of the Dam and Downstream Community Safety Initiative (DDCSI) workshop held in Ha Noi yesterday.
Kathryn Beckett, the first secretary for development at New Zealand's Embassy of Ha Noi and also head of NZAID, spoke to Viet Nam News about the reason for the partnership and the urgency of the project.
"The first reason New Zealand got involved is that we are aware of the critical situation of many of Viet Nam's dams some of which were build 40 years or so ago. The situation is only getting worse with the increase in extreme weather," she said, adding that "the second reason is that New Zealand has great expertise in this kind of work, we have a lot of large hydropower dams and we have strong international practices in dam management."
The DDSCI project, which started in May 2012, is sponsored by New Zealand's NZAID and implemented by the New Zealand Institute of Geological and Nuclear Sciences, a New Zealand consultancy firm Damwatch and Viet Nam's Water Resources University.
The project is expected to end this year after the guidelines to improve dam safety in Viet Nam have been completed.
Worker safety and reducing economic damage from extreme dam discharges are a few of the guideline targets, Prof. Dr. Nguyen Quang Kim, rector of Water Resources University, told the workshop.
"The project develops a model for managing flood risks caused by extreme dam discharges, including dam spillway release floods and dam failure floods that may affect downstream communities. It uses a comprehensive method for assessing potential consequences and also proposes prioritized methods to improve dam safety, as well as how to respond when there is an incident."
"So far, the project has almost completed its first phase with a case study of Ban Mong reservoir in Nghe An Province," said Kim, highlighting that the results of the study would be transferred to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, and Nghe An Province as a model for other dam safety practices.
"The project applies a unique approach to Viet Nam. Nobody in the whole Mekong region can offer to do what we are doing. We are looking at the whole dam system and whole river basin system; from hazards down to the impact on communities," Beckett said.
"In this first phase, the project just produces tools to help assess risks, the likelihood of economic damage and guides on how to improve dam management practices. In the next phase we plan to jump into action," she said.
Beckett stressed that, "the situation is critical. In Binh Dinh province, I arrived a day after a dam flood. People were killed and washed away. I visited households and businesses that suffered from the dam break; people lost buffaloes and their livelihoods. The experience showed me the widespread nature of the problem, which therefore must be dealt with across the country."
PM approves IT application in social security project
The PM has ratified the estimates for information technology (IT) application in the social security sector in 2012-2015.
The project, worth VND1,263.33 billion, will be mobilized from sources based on regulations at  Decision No.4/2011/QĐ-TTg dated January 20, 2011, on financial management of Viet Nam Social Security.
Accordingly, the software and database group and the IT technical infrastructure group will be allocated VND495.83 billion and VND700 billion, respectively.
The General Director of Viet Nam Social Security will be responsible for monitoring and launching the project.
Overcrowding still plagues major Vietnam hospitals
Overcrowding, bed-sharing and overworked staff continue to raise concerns about the quality of care at major hospitals in Vietnam.
National Pediatric Hospital said it had managed to find individual beds for each patient for the past four months by changing administrative procedures and limiting the number of in-patients to 1,500. Patients with minor health problems are not being hospitalised, though some are being held for up to five hours for observation in case their health requires hospitalisation.
But on January 28, patients reported there was still bed-sharing going on, with nine patients sharing five beds. One parent said her child's room has two beds shared between three patients, because they all have serious illnesses and require close monitoring.
Nguyen Mien Thuy, another parent, said, "I'm worried for my child's health if the hospital discharges him too soon. I'd rather let him share beds and stay at hospital."
Hanoi National Cancer Hospital plans to increase the number of outpatients to limit bed-sharing, causing concern among patients about quality of care.
Two patients share a bed at National Pediatric Hospital
Overcrowding has been a serious problem in big cities. Sometimes, patients in HCM City Oncology Hospital, where patient numbers are at 247 percent capacity, some patients are sleeping under beds. HCM City Hospital of Traumatic and Orthopaedics is also overcrowded, at 140 percent of bed capacity, and Pediatric Hospital No.1 is at 127 percent capacity.
In 2012, the Ministry of Health announced plans to build more satellite hospitals and improve the capacity of local hospitals to reduce the number of transfers to major central hospitals. On January 20 this year, 13 major hospitals committed to end bed-sharing by February 27.
Hanoi's Bach Mai Hospital, one of the most overcrowded hospital in Vietnam, did not make any commitment, blaming lack of infrastructure and equipment for chronic overcrowding.
Among 13 committed hospitals, only Viet-Duc Hospital is likely meet its goal.
Nguyen Tien Quyet, director of the hospital, said, "The total number of our beds and stretchers is 1,100, but the number of patient hasn't gone past 1,040. We'll put another 350 beds into use so we won't have to use stretchers. Patients can also stay in hospital longer instead of being transferred to satellite hospitals after primary treatment."  

10 products participate in US$3bln export club
Ten items joined the US$3 billion export club in 2014, together making an export turnover of US$104.14 billion, accounting for 69.3% of the total and representing a rise of 13.9% from 2013.
Those witnessing high growth rate included garment up 16.8%, footwear up 23.1%, aquaculture up 17.1%, machines, equipment and tools up 21.4% and coffee up 30.9%.
Among the 10 items, six belonged to the manufacturing and processing industry, three in the agricultural-forestry-aquaculture sector, and crude oil.
The nation recorded 10 localities having export turnover exceeding US$3 billion in 2014, seeing  three more new provinces of Thai Nguyen, Long An and Ba Ria-Vung Tau.
These 10 localities posted a total export turnover of US$116.15 billion in 2014, accounting for 77.3% of the total.
The southern province of Binh Duong announced the highest trade surplus of US$3.86 billion, followed by the northern provinces of Bac Ninh and Thai Nguyen with US$3.35 billion and US$1.2 billion, respectively.
Viet Nam gained US$95.32 billion from exporting to 12 markets in the US$3 billion export club. The US, China, Japan and the Republic of Korea remained the largest exporters of the nation.
In 2015, an ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) will be formed, allowing Viet Nam to restructure its export and import markets and increase the competitiveness.
In 2014, Viet Nam’s export turnover to ASEAN nations reached more than US$19.12 billion, much higher than the figure of US$1.112 billion in 1995.  
The nation signed Free Trade Agreements (FTA) with the EU, the Republic of Korea and the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan this year, expecting that these will push the country's deeper global integration.
Textile firm raises VND119 billion from IPO
Textile firm Minh Khai under Hanoi May 19 Textile Group (Hatexco) mobilized nearly VND119 billion from the sale of over 1.6 million shares at its  initial public offering (IPO) at the Hanoi Stock Exchange last Friday.
Thirty investors bid for more than 26.7 million shares at the IPO auction, 16 times higher than the volume put up for sale, according to Vietnam News Agency.
Notably, an investor wanted to acquire all the offered volume at the highest bid of VND72,000 per share, seven times higher than the starting price of VND10,100 each.
Closing the auction, three individual investors bought all the 1.6 million shares with the average winning price of VND71,991 per share, and Minh Khai Textile Factory raised earned VND118.7 billion from the auction.
Fuel firms report profits despite price plunge
Local fuel traders Comeco and Saigon Fuel Joint Stock Company (SFC) have announced strong profit rises in the final quarter of last year although fuel prices have tumbled since last July.
Comeco’s net profit reached VND13.95 billion, a year-on-year surge of 126.5%. Overall, its net profit amounted to more than VND42 billion for all of last year, up 66% against 2013.
However, Comeco’s revenue was lower than in the fourth quarter of 2013. Le Tan Thuong, general director of Comeco, attributed the revenue drop of 6.02% to the shrinking fuel prices.
Meanwhile, SFC’s unaudited net profit exceeded VND10.5 billion in the fourth quarter of last year, doubling that of the previous year’s same period. Overall, its net profit surpassed VND37.2 billion for the whole year versus 2013.
Similar to Comeco, SFC’s revenue went down in October-December compared to the same period of 2013 due to lower fuel prices than those recorded in the final quarter of the previous year.
Both SFC and Comeco buy products from wholesalers for distribution and earn discounts offered by those wholesalers.
As reported by the Daily, the discount rates ranged from VND800 to up to VND1,200 per liter in the final quarter of last year. The wholesalers offered high discount rates in order to woo fuel retailers on dropping retail prices.
HCM City IPs told to welcome major apparel projects
The authorities of HCMC have urged the industrial parks (IPs) to attract major projects in the textile and garment sector despite the city’s restrictions on labor-intensive projects.
Tran Viet Ha, head of the Investment Management Department of the HCMC Export Processing and Industrial Zones Authority (Hepza), explained the world’s apparel industry is forecast to grow strongly.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement could be concluded this year, offering great opportunities for companies in the industry to benefit from zero tariffs on apparel exports to TPP member countries.
Projects in the textile and garment sector need a lot of labor but experts said as apparel is a major export earner of Vietnam, it is one of the countries to benefit most from the opportunities to be brought by the multilateral trade pact.
Therefore, Ha said some IPs such as Hiep Phuoc and Dong Nam have opened their doors to apparel projects, Ha told the Daily on the sidelines of a recent meeting of Hepza in the city.
Ha said projects in the textile and garment sector licensed by Hepza produce luxury items and use modern technology.
Among the apparel projects licensed in the past year is Worldon Vietnam Ltd. Co. in Dong Nam IP. It has recently increased its pledged investment to US$300 million from US$140 million.
Ha said the Worldon Vietnam project, which also has a design center, makes products for world-known brands such as Nike, Adidas and Puma. The investor needs an area of 52 hectares and 7,000-8,000 employees.
Forever Glorious of Taiwan’s Sheico Group has pledged US$50 million for a project to produce almost everything from fiber to finished garments, with a work force of more than 3,500 people at Dong Nam IP.
Last year, the IPs and export processing zones (EPZs) in the city saw a year-on-year fall of a slight 4.39% in foreign direct investment (FDI) approvals at US$347.5 million thanks to large-scale apparel projects.
Consumers pay the price
The country is shifting to a market economy in which market forces dictate consumer prices. This is evident in the 15 bouts of fuel retail price cuts since July last year in response to the world oil price plunge, which has in turn sent consumer prices in January diving 0.2%, a 17-year January low.
However, the consumer price index might have been lower if transportation service prices had been slashed in proportion to the fuel price reductions. Consumers are hoping for lower transportation prices as fuel costs account for around half of those prices. Surprisingly, transportation firms, including those providing taxi services, have shown little sign of making real concessions.
Consumers, economic experts and even authorities at local and central levels have frowned on the reluctance of transportation businesses to make a significant move. As the cup of endurance is over, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has intervened by ordering relevant ministries and agencies to inspect transportation fees to see whether they are overpriced. The Ministry of Transport will be coordinating with the Ministry of Finance to send out inspection teams at the request of the Government leader.
This is a clear indication that transportation businesses are not playing by the rules of the market. Given growing pressure, some companies in 43 of the country’s 63 cities and provinces have revised down their transportation charges but an insignificant range of 1-25%. The many firms that have kept their fees unchanged reason that in previous fuel price cuts, they already lowered fees, leaving little room for further reduction. This argument is not justifiable. Why? Because fuel prices have dropped 15 times but the number of fee cuts by transportation firms is neglectable.
Economist Dr. Ngo Tri Long describes the inaction of multiple transportation companies as unusual. He calls for pricing authorities to promptly conduct inspections and publicize all those businesses found to overprice their services, thereby stepping up pressure on them to act for the benefit of consumers.
Hopefully the Government intervention will end up preventing the consumer from paying the price for what is unacceptably overpriced.
PM decides specific mechanisms for Quang Ninh province
The Prime Minister has approved several economic mechanisms designed specifically for the northern coastal province of Quang Ninh and its Van Don economic zone.
Accordingly, Quang Ninh is allowed to establish a State-owned financial investment company following the model of Ho Chi Minh City to mobilise funds for infrastructure building. The provincial People’s Committee is to work on details of the company and submit the scheme to the PM for consideration.
The province will receive capital from the central budget and other sources to help with the construction of major local projects during 2015-2020 such as a road connecting Ha Long city with Hanoi-Haiphong Highway, the Ha Long-Van Don-Mong Cai Highway, Hai Ha seaport and environmental protection programmes in Ha Long and Bai Tu Long Bays.
Priority will be given to Quang Ninh in terms of ODA and preferential loans of donors to carry out several key projects in socio-economic development and environmental protection including the environmental protection plan in Ha Long City and urban development along the Greater Mekong sub-region corridor.
The government will also consider assisting Quang Ninh province in the form of Public-Private Partnership (PPP) to implement a number of important infrastructure projects.
Regarding local Van Don economic zone, the PM decided to include it in the list of coastal economic zones prioritized for development using State funding during the 2013-2015 period.
Besides general incentives applied for those economic zones, Van Don will be given priority in terms of ODA attraction for the construction of its key infrastructure.
Some infrastructure projects such as the Van Don airport, communication facilities, an international hospital and cross-island roads will receive investment from the State budget, government bonds and ODA capital.
Van Don, the biggest island in the northern region, was selected by the Vietnamese government to develop into a special administrative and economic zone. With its location in a corridor linking China and Southeast Asian nations, the island has easy access to other economic and political centres in Asia.
Dong Nai support industry earns 3.2 billion USD in exports
The annual export value of Southern Dong Nai province’s support industry reached 3.2 billion USD, according to the provincial Department of Industry and Trade.
Industrial parks in the province have attracted 422 Foreign-Direct-Investment (FDI) projects with a total capital of 6.9 billion USD to the support industry in various sectors including garments and textiles, footwear, electronics, auto and bike spare parts, and mechanics and equipment.
Support companies account for 23.5 percent of all enterprises and employ more than 200,000 employees—or 37 percent of those working in industrial parks.
The support industry continues to be the province’s priority for attracting FDI capital.
During the first 20 days of January, the province granted investment licences to two support industry projects worth one million USD.
So far, investment licences have been given to 1,473 projects with a combined capital of 26.19 billion USD.
Report announces cross-sector financial capacity improvement
Tourism, chemical, light industry and other cross-sector enterprises saw the highest improvement in their financial capacity, increasing by over 60 percent, as released in a report on the health status of businesses. “The 2014 Business Index – Corporate financial capacity”, published by the Institute of Business Studies & Development (INBUS) under the University of Business and Technology, was made public on January 27.
The report compares enterprises’ financial capacity across sectors and demonstrates their business performance improvement over the past year.
As many as 109 firms in transport, construction materials, mechanics, pharmaceuticals and healthcare services, garments and textiles, books and school equipment, construction, and minerals sectors increased by roughly 50-60 percent.
INBUS Head Nguyen Manh Quan said the institute will continue supporting businesses to enhance their performance in accordance with the international standard confidence index system (CIS) and Business Profile, as well as assisting in the international integration process.
The business index provides necessary information to stakeholders and reveals businesses’ contribution to their sectors and the economy, said President of the Vietnam Association of Accountants and Auditors Dang Van Thanh.
Central Highlands strive for socio-economic growth
In 2015, the Central Highlands aim to maintain social and political stability as well as enhancing economic growth, as said at a conference held in Buon Ma Thuot City, Dak Lak province on January 27.
To realise these targets, the regional steering committee has concentrated on monitoring the effective implementation of several local development projects. The committee has also called for more favourable policies to support major local products, particularly in agriculture, forestry and tourism.
It is working to devise an efficient mechanism to bolster the mobilisation of funds for transport and other public infrastructure improvements. Some of the region’s key projects include upgrading Pleiku airport and building the Ho Chi Minh road.
Managing migrant populations and properly handling shortcomings in hydropower projects are also key 2015 priorities.
In 2014, the Central Highlands’ total GDP increased by 8.74 percent with an annual export revenue exceeding 2.5 billion USD.-
Solutions for enterprises’ challenges in 2015
A workshop on 2015 challenges for enterprises was held in Hanoi on January 27 by ‘Dien dan Doanh nghiep’ (The Business Forum) newspaper to assess obstacles and limitations and seek solutions facilitating enterprise development in the context of increasing international integration.
Reports at the workshop revealed that small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME) in Vietnam, comprising 98 percent of total enterprises, are restricted in accessing loans and support from the government. In addition, reform progress in those businesses moves too slowly.
Dr. Vo Tri Thanh, Deputy Director of the Central Institute for Economic Management said that Vietnam struggles to participate in supply chains due to the small number of SMEs and large enterprises in relation to other countries.
However, he highlighted that Vietnam should work to stimulate innovation and cooperation with other countries to leverage its high potential in garments and textiles, leather footwear, fisheries, tourism and services.
Enterprises should familiarise themselves with the legal procedures of the integration process, Thanh said, adding that small-sized enterprises should collaborate with large businesses for capital access and efficient management.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Thi Thu Trang, director of the World Trade Organisation Centre under the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, underscored that enterprises should focus on a number of issues including labour, the environment and the quality of products and services.
Apart from efforts made by enterprises, Deputy Director of the Business Development Department under the Ministry of Planning and Investment Bui Thu Thuy stressed the role of the government in simplifying loan procedures and promoting the establishment and utilisation of an SME development fund.
HCM City targets 13 percent credit growth rate in 2015
The State Bank of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City branch has set targets of 13 percent credit growth rate, 12 percent deposit growth rate, under 3 percent bad debt ratio and better-than-last year business results in 2015, said the branch director To Duy Lam.
The banking industry will drastically implement the credit institution restructuring program and tackle bad debts, Lam was quoted by Saigon Giai phong newspaper as saying. They will focus on completing bank merger plans, he added.
Stating at the conference on January 26, permanent deputy Governor of the State Bank Nguyen Dong Tien instructed credit institutions to fulfill merger plans before June 2015 and keep close eyes on the progress to ensure that merged banks will stably operate in the second half of the same year.
In addition, Tien said that the banking system’s average bad debt has been under control.
In fact, many banks have a very low deep debt ratio--about 1 percent.
However, he said, the 3 percent bad debt ratio target will put a heavy pressure on banks. They thus should have financial preparations for risks and ensure effective credit growth.
The target of 13 percent credit growth is suitable but the State Bank’s HCM City branch should pay heed to credit quality, he added.
Last year HCM City banking system achieved positive results. Capital mobilisation went up 15 percent against the previous year to reach 1,344 trillion VND (62.97 billion USD ). Liability increased 12 percent to hit 1,068 trillion VND (50,036 million USD). The monetary market was stable and banking service quality was improved.
The Bank - Business Connectivity Programme has loaned 1,143 customers including businesses, traders and cooperatives with a total capital of 40,057 billion VND (1.88 billion USD).
Egyptian investors take interest in Vietnam
Egyptian investors showed strong interest in Vietnam’s business market during a dialogue jointly organised by the Vietnamese Embassy in Egypt and the Chamber of Commerce of Alexandria city in Cairo on January 26.
The event, with the participation of representatives from 17 local firms in various fields, was part of focused activities organised by the Embassy to introduce and promote Vietnamese products in a five million population market, said Vietnamese Ambassador in Egypt Dao Thanh Chung.
Vietnamese trade counsellor in Egypt Pham The Cuong also briefed local businesses on high-potential fields in Vietnam, such as agro-forestry-fishery product cultivation and processing, garment-textiles, leather footwear, rice and furniture.
General Director of the Egyptian engineering company Heshem Tawfik hailed Vietnam’s strategic vision, praising the efficient and well-orchestrated event.
In 2014, trade between the two countries was valued at 320 million USD, a substantial increase from 220 million USD in 2013. The figure is expected to grow even further to reach 400 million USD this year.
Binh Duong to make VSIP industrial-urban-service complex
The southern province of Binh Duong and the Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) Group have agreed to expand the industrial park, which will include urban and social services in the future.
The consensus was reached during a meeting between Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee Tran Van Nam and Co-Chairman of the VSIP Group Kavin Teo on January 26.
Nam hailed the contributions of businesses, especially those from the two VSIPs, to the local socio-economic successes in 2014.
The province continues to promote sustainable development towards becoming a centrally-run first-tier city by 2020, he said, adding that it will prioritise projects with advanced technology and competitive products.
The provincial leader also pledged to further improve infrastructure and support investors.
Kavin Teo said effective management by the provincial authorities has increased investor confidence in the local business environment, noting that in 2014, the VSIP Group attracted 600 million USD in investment to 21 new and 26 current projects.
After nearly 20 years of development, the group has contributed to boosting local socio-economic growth, he said, adding that it now focuses on upgrading the VSIPs into urban-services-social welfare complexes.
Teo asserted that the success of the VSIPs in Binh Duong can serve as a foundation for the expansion of the model to other localities across Vietnam.
Vietnam forges new global market
The Tra Bac Joint Stock Corporation (TRABACO) has exported its first 100 tonnes of activated carbon for 2015 made from coconut husks to the Japanese market.
Activated carbon is used in gas purification, decaffeination, gold purification, metal extraction, water purification, medicine, sewage treatment, air filters in gas masks and respirators, filters in compressed air and numerous other applications.
The global market for activated carbon is forecast to reach a market size of 2.3 million metric tons by the year 2017, energized mainly by the anticipated spurt in demand for activated carbon in the US market, according to a new report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.
In the future, apart from the traditional application areas, several new focus spheres are expected to arise from rigid governmental regulations in the US such as the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Clean Water Act among others.
The US and Asia-Pacific, (currently powered mainly by China, Indonesia, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Thailand) have traditionally dominated as two of the largest activated carbon producers around the globe.
TRABACO is forging a new pathway into the market and anticipates exporting 4,200 tonnes of activated charcoal in various types to foreign markets such as the EU, Asian nations, the US, South America and Australia and expand its outlets to the Middle East for 2015.
Nguyen Khac Nhu, TRABACO general director said this year, the company will focus on developing its brand name for Made-in-Vietnam high quality principally in the US and the South American markets.
Seafood exports to US hit record high
Vietnam’s seafood exports to the US for calendar year 2014 jumped 25.6% on-year, tallying in at US$1.709 billion, according to the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP).
VASEP reported the US remained the country’s largest seafood market, accounting for 21.82% of the total market share.
Vietnamese seafood exports to Japan, the Republic of Korea and China increased by 7.55%, 27.85% and 11.38% respectively.
Vietnam was also the third largest supplier of seafood to Australia, trailing New Zealand and China.
In 2014 the country’s total seafood export value reached nearly US$8 billion, exceeding the target by US$1 billion.
HCM City prepares for 2015 Vietnam Food Expo
The Vietnam International Food Industry Exhibition 2015 (2015 Vietnam Food Expo) will be held from May 13-16 in Ho Chi Minh City, according to the Vietnam Trade Promotion Agency (Vietrade), under the Ministry of Trade.
The event is expected to feature 500 booths displaying various food and beverages, and packaging technology from 15 countries and territories.
According to Deputy Director of Vietrade Ta Hoang Linh, the 2015 Vietnam Food Expo will be an effective and high-profile bridge connecting Vietnamese manufacturers and agricultural product traders with domestic distributors and retailers as well as foreign importers.
The event looks to drive technological innovation and improve labour productivity to enhance the competitiveness of the country’s agricultural industry , he added.
Numerous programmes and activities will also be held during the four-day event, including the International Vietnam Food Industry Conference, an international cooking competition, and other trade promotion activities.
The annual Vietnam Food Expo is the leading trade fair for the food industry.
AES Mong Duong managing director elected in VCBSD’s Executive Board
Managing director of AES-VCM Mong Duong Power Company Limited, David Stone has been elected a member of the Executive Board of Vietnam Business Council for Sustainable Development (VCBSD) for the 2015-2016 term.
VBCSD is a Vietnamese business-led organisation and strives for excellence in sustainable development. The council is a member-driven organisation whose aim is to encourage the council members and the business community to participate and contribute to sustainable development. Being a business platform for sustainable development, the VBCSD shall continually promote the best business practices and apply ecologically efficient, environmentally friendly international business standards.
The Mong Duong 2 power plant with two units and the total gross capacity of 1,240MW is currently under construction in the northern province of Quang Ninh. The total investment for the project is approximately $2 billion, implemented under the build-operate-transfer (BOT) model. It is considered the largest BOT power project in Vietnam which utilises pulverised coal-fired boiler technology with advanced state of the art environmental controls to not only increase reliability but meet local Vietnamese and international standards in order to minimise the impact to the environment.
AES Mong Duong focuses on providing safe, reliable and sustainable energy solutions, as well as making a lasting difference in the communities they serve.  The project is one of only a limited number of plants in Vietnam with international financing and associated designs meeting both Vietnam and international environmental, health and safety standards.
The company has also developed a robust corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme that engages the community leading to the development of key initiatives and projects to improve the livelihood and the environment in the communities. Some of the initiatives to date include significant investment in the upgrades to medical and educational facilities and targeted environmental projects. AES Mong Duong is also very engaged in educating the community through site visits and community outreach programmes such as safety and values days at local schools.
EU investments stymied
The Eurozone crisis may hamper investments from Eurozone nations to Vietnam, as the euro’s depreciation makes investments in Vietnam more expensive.
The EU is among the largest sources of foreign direct investment inflows into Vietnam, with figures from the Ministry of Planning and Investment revealing that EU firms had registered to invest in 1,566 projects in Vietnam as of the end of December 2014, worth some $19.1 billion.
Vietnam was eagerly anticipating a flood of European investments following the near conclusion of a lucrative bilateral free trade agreement. Late last year, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung even toured a series of EU nations including Germany, Belgium and Italy seeking  investment opportunities in Vietnam. But if the Eurozone continues to be dogged by problems, this will hamper investment inflows in Vietnam.
“The substantial devaluation of the euro against the US dollar has already made European products very competitive against those coming from other areas, especially those whose currency is linked to the US dollar, including Vietnam,” said Tomaso Andreatta, vice chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce (EuroCham)which has more than 700 European corporate members.
In mid-January, the euro dropped to an 11-year low against the US dollar after the Swiss National Bank made a decision to stop buying euros to anchor the Swiss franc.
Analysts believe the euro will keep on depreciating, pushing the Eurozone back into crisis like in 2009, with the threat of deflation. The situation currently suggests the European Central Bank may have to implement quantitative easing to spur economic growth.
Andreatta, who is also head of Intesa Sanpaolo Bank’s office in Ho Chi Minh City, said the investments from the Eurozone became more expensive in Vietnam. “An investment decided last year will see an automatic adjustment, as it was decided in terms of euro, so now, once translated into Vietnam dong, it is smaller,” he said.
In addition, Andreatta believed companies in the Eurozone were now poorer in terms of US dollars and they may decide to postpone or review investments previously planned.
Last but not least, the incentives for European business to outsource products from Vietnam has reduced, as the Vietnam dong is linked to the US dollar and has appreciated, thereby reducing the attractiveness of Vietnam’s low labour costs.
“There are parts of Europe with relatively low labour costs like Portugal or Romania, where productivity is higher than Vietnam and they are very close to the core of the EU market, which will now be considered as first choice for new production facilities for sales in Europe,” said Andreatta.
However, the current Eurozone crisis can only inhibit investments from this zone to Vietnam in the short term, given the potential growth in this market and EU monetary authority policies that could boost European economies.
“The overall economic development is affected by disappointing growth in the Eurozone and the geopolitical events. However, following extensive reforms, we can say that Europe and the euro are in better and more stable shape. The euro countries are undertaking comprehensive reforms,” said Thomas Hundt, director of Germany Trade and Invest in Vietnam.
Hundt believed European businesses would strengthen their competitiveness by investing in countries with the highest comparative advantage. The comparative advantages between European countries and Vietnam arise from differences in factor endowments or technological progress.
“There are still many potential gains to be made from free trade and open investment conditions between Vietnam and the EU. The upcoming Vietnam-EU free trade agreement will boost European investments in Vietnam in the long term. Other attractive factors for European investments this year are the expected accelerated Vietnamese GDP growth and today’s excellent business climate among European companies in Vietnam,” he added.
InterContinental finally moves into Keangnam
Three years after the Keangnam Hanoi Landmark complex was initially put into operation, InterContinental Hotel Group’s second hotel in Hanoi will finally come to fruition later this year.
Keangnam president Lee Hyo Jong told VIR last week that after a period of negotiations, InterContinental Hotel Group (IHG) and Keangnam had come to an agreement, and were making preparations to open the InterContinental Hotel at Keangnam in the second half of this year.
The reason for the delay, Jong said, was that the two sides had to resolve their differences in terms of their creative vision for the hotel’s overall style and facilities.
“One of the reasons why starting our hotel business has been delayed is the negotiating process on brand-standards with IHG. In order to satisfy the brand-standard required, it required large additional investment so it took quite a long time to deal with IHG. However, now all unclear issues are settled and it will begin operating within the second half of 2015,” Jong said.
InterContinental Hanoi Landmark 72 was initially due to be opened at the end of 2013, however the operation, it seemed, had been delayed to the point where even the billboard naming Intercontinental as the operator of the hotel was removed from the wall of Keangnam’s Landmark building.
VIR was told that all members of the team responsible for the pre-opening activities had been disbanded.
Clarence Tan, chief operating officer for Southeast Asia & Resorts of IHG confirmed to VIR that IHG was still working with Keangnam to open the hotel.
InterContinental Hanoi Landmark 72 looks set to be a 5-star luxury hotel, and the tallest hotel in Southeast Asia. At the very top of the Landmark 72 building, perched between floors 62-71, the 359 rooms will have spectacular views, not to mention access to a variety of restaurants and state-of-the-art meeting facilities.
“We know that the hotel segment is struggling through difficult times with supply greater than demand. However, we still have faith in our hotel, because we have our target customers, who are within the business circle from neighbouring industrial zones and MICE activities,” Jong said.
Moreover, being a multi-function complex, Keangnam’s president also believed that the demand of companies and their partners in the building could supply a stable source of customers.
Keangnam Landmark Tower is the tallest building in Vietnam, consisting of six separate components: apartments for sale, serviced residence, offices for lease, a retail podium, a living and entertainment serviced area, and a hotel. The hotel is the latest component to be into operation.
Bank-Business Connectivity Program well implemented in HCMC
The Bank-Business Connectivity Program has been implemented in Ho Chi Minh City for the last three years and provided low interest loans to over 4,500 businesses with a total amount of VND67.5 trillion (US$3.16 billion).
That was revealed at a conference hosted by the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) in Ho Chi Minh City and the city People’s Committee yesterday.
Last year the program organized 31 events to connect banks with businesses. Nearly 1,200 businesses, households and traders and 62 cooperatives were loaned VND40,056 billion (US$1.88 billion), triple the number in 2013 and double initial norm set by the city.
Banks disbursed as per pledges, businesses used capital for right purposes and made payment on time.
The banks also restructured debts for 10,590 customers with a total liability of VND218 trillion, reduced interest rates for 177,481 customers with the total loan of VND439 trillion.
HCMC People’s Committee Deputy Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Hong said that the program purpose was to provide low interest bank loans to businesses, especially those in five priority fields and small and medium enterprises.
The committee has instructed SBV’s HCMC branch to coordinate with the Department of Industry and Trade, HCMC Business Association and district administration to take the imitative in looking for and accessing enterprises in need of capital and indentify their difficulties.
District people’s committees gathered information about businesses and proposed the State Bank to consider providing them with low interest loans.
Although the number of businesses able to get loans is not high but the program’s achievements are remarkable, said Ms. Hong.
At the conference she announced a new credit package of VND128 trillion (US$5,997 million) for the program this year with 19 commercial banks signing an agreement to join in.
SBV deputy governor Nguyen Dong Tien said that together with the price subsidization program, the Bank-Business Connectivity Program showed HCMC efforts to solve difficulties for businesses, help them reduce production costs, improve financial ability and competitiveness, boost production and trading to develop the economy.
The city’s economy has showed signs of recovery with the Gross Domestic Product growth reaching the highest rate for the last three years of 9.6 percent.
The State Bank Governor considered the city’s program as a typical modal to multiply nationwide. So far the country has mobilized VND250 trillion (US$11.71 billion) for programs to bring together banks and businesses. Over 300 talks have been held to listen to and solve businesses’ difficulties.
Fisheries output increases despite unfavourable weather
The nation’s total fishing production in January is estimated to reach 409,000 tonnes, up 2.3% compared to the same period in 2014, despite unfavourable weather conditions.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), total production is forecasted at 223,000 tonnes, up 2.8%; while aquaculture output is also up by 1.8% to 186,000 tonnes.
A representative from the Directorate of Fisheries under the MARD said that fishermen in northern localities on their fishing season enlist to offshore operation, generating in a considerable output.
Local fishermen are encouraged to team up for offshore fishing and focus on catching high-value fish such as tuna, scad, squid, and shrimp, while increasing investment in boats to increase offshore capacity.
In particular, for tuna fishing, some provinces have seen significant increase in the total of produce caught, including Khanh Hoa with 450 tonnes, up 7.1%; Binh Dinh 240 tonnes, up 4.3%; and Phu Yen estimated at 550 tonnes, equivalent to the same period last year.
Aquaculture output in January also rose, estimated to reach 186,000 tonnes nationwide, up 1.8% year-on-year.
Accordingly, the farming area of tra in the Mekong Delta in January is estimated at 2,100 hectares, up 0.8% compared to the same period of last year with an estimated production of 24,000 tonnes, up 10.5%.
Several provinces like Tien Giang, Ben Tre, and Vinh Long have seen an increase in both acreage and yields, of which Ben Tre recorded the largest production area with an increase of 15% compared to the same period in 2014.
More conditions for rice exporters
Enterprises will have to meet stricter conditions if they want to get approval to export rice, according to a new decision of the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The decision, effective from early March this year, governs a roadmap for paddy production and consumption in the 2015-2020 period with an aim to balance risks and benefits for rice traders and growers.
In the five-year period starting from 2015, enterprises should develop paddy farming areas with output equivalent to the volume they exported in 2011-2013. Those firms with export volume of less than 50,000 tons per year in the period will have to invest in 500 hectares of paddy in the first year, and increase the acreage by 300 hectares each year from the second year.
Meanwhile, exporters of 50,000 to less than 100,000 tons of rice per year will have to develop paddy fields of 800 hectares in the first year and expand the area by 500 hectares in each following year. The area must be 1,200 hectares in the first year and is increased by 800 hectares per year for those shipping 100,000-200,000 tons of rice per year.
The respective figures for exporters of more than 200,000 tons of rice per year in 2011-2013 will be 2,000 hectares and 1,500 hectares.
In its decision, the ministry clarifies three methods to develop paddy fields for rice exporters to choose. They are allowed to invest in large-scale paddy fields, sign contracts to buy rice from farmers, or produce paddy on the fields they lease from the Government, farming households or organizations.
Hoang Lam, director of An Giang Province-based Hung Lam Joint Stock Company, said the company has prepared procedures for a large-scale paddy field project for months but the project requires huge funding.
HCMC banks make US$6 billion loans
Nineteen banks in HCMC will lend nearly US$6 billion to local companies, family-run businesses and individuals this year, double the target set by the city government for the year.
At a launching ceremony of the 2015 bank-business connectivity program on January 26, the banks inked deals with the central bank’s HCMC branch and the HCMC Department of Industry and Trade to provide corporate and individual borrowers with loans amounting to over VND128 trillion (around US$6 billion).
The major lenders include Vietcombank with VND30 trillion, BIDV with VND20 trillion and Sacombank with VND10 trillion.
Earlier, the central bank’s branch in the city expected banks would lend VND60 trillion with preferential interest rates to businesses through the program this year, up 50% from the previous year.
This year, lenders will apply short-term lending rates of no higher than 7% per annum for designated borrowers and medium- to long-term rates of around 9% per annum.
The lender banks may also consider lowering the interest rates for old loans to help struggling borrowers.
Nguyen Hoang Dung, deputy general director of VietinBank, told the ceremony that the lender would consider reducing long-term interest rates by one to two percentage points against common levels within the next seven to 10 days.
Last year, VietinBank reported total outstanding loans of over VND20 trillion for the program. The bank applied short-term rates of 5.5-6% per annum and medium- to long-term rates of 7-10% per annum.
VietinBank has had no debt problems with the participating corporate borrowers of the program over the past three years as industry associations have provided it with enough information about those borrowers, Dung said.
Between 2012 and 2014, over 4,500 customers took out loans worth VND67.5 trillion thanks to the program, said Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of the central bank’s HCMC branch.
No overdue debts have been reported so far. However, many enterprises have not benefited from the program. Despite their feasible business plans, some have not been able to gain access to bank loans in the program given the lack of collateral, Minh said.
Banks should consider providing unsecured loans for certain enterprises. Minh said businesses could also mull borrowing from the city’s credit funds for small and medium-sized enterprises.
Last year, over 1,140 customers took out loans totaling over VND40 trillion from the program, up 1.3 times and three times from the previous year respectively.
Nguyen Dong Tien, deputy governor of the central bank, said the city’s lending model has been deployed nationwide. Up to now, enterprises have borrowed over VND250 trillion (US$11.7 billion) from the program.
PetroVietnam to focus on five business areas
Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai has asked the Vietnam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) to focus on five business areas this year, with oil and gas survey and exploitation as the core.
The primary goal is to increase the output and reserves of oil and gas, contributing to national energy security. Any underfunded projects should be brought to the attention of the government to develop creative solutions, he said.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade was assigned to ensure the progress of relevant projects in the gas industry as PetroVietnam effectively operates gas facilities and steps up power generation projects, especially in the supervisory, construction and bidding stages.
PetroVietnam is responsible for upgrading the Dung Quat refinery plant, accelerating projects on the Nghi Son oil refinery and petrochemical complex and the Long Son refinery complex, and safely operating other refinery and bio-fuel plants as indicated in its 2015 targets.
PetroVietnam’s firms in oil and gas should work to improve their capacity and extend cooperation with overseas markets.
The Deputy PM demanded PetroVietnam fine-tune its 2025 development strategy, including specifying its comparative advantages and disadvantages with regional partners, especially with the Malaysia oil and gas corporation Petronas, and devising ways to eliminate development gaps.
It was also urged to rapidly restructure its operations, per mandates from the Prime Minister.
PetroVietnam’s crude oil, gas, electricity, fertiliser and petroleum generated 745.5 trillion VND (35.5 billion USD) last year, 11.8 percent over its yearly target.
Central Highlands examines how to attract more foreign investment
The Central Highlands region lags behind other areas in the country in attracting foreign investment due to its poor infrastructure and lack of skilled labour.
According to the Foreign Investment Agency under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, the region, which comprises Kon Tum, Gia Lai, Dak Lak, Dak Nong and Lam Dong, had 148 valid foreign-investment projects with a total registered capital of 819 million USD by the end of last year.
Of these provinces, Lam Dong led with 122 projects capitalised at approximately 500 million USD and accounting for 82 percent of the region's total foreign-invested projects and 61 percent of total registered FDI, the agency noted.
Dak Lak ranked second with six projects, valued at 150 million USD, while Gia Lai placed third with 11 projects valued at 80 million USD. The two remaining provinces of Kon Tum and Dak Nong had nine projects with a combined capital of 89.6 million USD.
Of note, Hong Kong (China) was the region's leading foreign investor with 150 million USD, making up 18 percent of its total FDI. It was followed by Taiwan (China), with 122 million USD or 15 percent, and Japan with 103 million USD or 12 percent.
During the reviewed period, the agro-forestry-fisheries sector absorbed the largest share of FDI with 350 million USD, accounting for 42 percent of the region's total FDI, following by processing and manufacturing industries with 198 million USD, or 24 percent of FDI pledged in the region.
To attract more FDI, the agency suggested that these five provinces accelerate investment promotions to publicise their investment climates, potentials and prioritise sectors to alert foreign investors about investment opportunities.
Top priority should also be given to further upgrading infrastructure and improving human resources to better attract investors, it added.