Thứ Hai, 26 tháng 12, 2016


SHB to sell 100 million shares     
Sai Gon-Ha Noi Bank (SHB) will issue 100 million shares worth VND1 trillion (US$ 43.8 million) to shareholders under its merger plan with Vinaconex-Viettel Finance JSC (VVF), the bank announced in a statement on Monday.
The sale aims to convert all VVF shares into SHB shares at a 1:1 ratio and at a price of VND10,000 per share. SHB will restructure VVF to turn it into SHB Consumer Finance Co Ltd, operating in consumer credit.
According to SHB, the date on record for VFF’s shareholders to register to make the share swap is January 12, 2017. Following the merger, SHB’s chartered capital will be raised to nearly VND10.5 trillion.
SHB Consumer Finance Co Ltd will begin operations in early 2017, adding that several international partners have expressed interest in co-operating with SHB to promote the operation of the consumer finance company.
SHB Finance will initially provide consumer credit services to individual customers that have annual income from VND150 million to VND200 million, later easing the market share to other individual customers with lower income.
Once SHB Finance is established, SHB will also transfer all its lists of individual borrowers with annual income of less than VND200 million to SHB Finance.
The share swap plan was passed by SHB and VVF shareholders at their annual general shareholders’ meeting last year.
Last week, the State Bank of Viet Nam officially approved the merger plan of the two bodies. 
Quang Ngai Sugar JSC’s capitalisation reaches $925 million on debut day     
More than 187 million shares of Quang Ngai Sugar Joint Stock Company began trading on the Unlisted Public Company Market (UPCoM) with code QNS on December 20.
The company’s share price jumped 40 per cent to close at VND112,000 (nearly US$5) at the end of the session, bringing the sugar producer’s market capitalisation to VND21 trillion.
QNS ended yesterday’s session at a price level that was lower than expected from HCM Securities Corp (HSC).
The company’s shares are valued at VND127,185 per share, an upside premium of 60 per cent over the reference price of VND80,000 per share, HSC said in a note, adding that QNS was initiated with a “buy” rating.
That evaluation came from the positive review of HSC on the prospective growth of Quang Ngai Sugar JSC as it owns the largest market share in soymilk (80 per cent) and is currently the third-largest sugar producer in Viet Nam.
QNS could be an alternative option besides two other large-cap companies in the food and beverage sector, which are dairy producer Vinamilk and brewer Sabeco.
QNS will have “plenty of scope for growth as the unbranded market shrinks with branded products taking over,” HSC said, noting that QNS is now dominant in the soymilk market – a branded market only.
HSC remained positive on the future growth of QNS and forecast that the sugar producer could record a yearly average growth rate of 11.1 per cent in net sales and 8.6 per cent in net profit in the next four years though QNS recorded lower performance in 2016 compared to the average number between 2011 and 2015.
QNS enjoyed strong business development from 2011 to 2015, according to HSC. Quang Ngai Sugar JSC recorded an average growth rate of 18.3 per cent in revenue and 20.8 per cent in net profit during this period.
Business performance slowed down in 2016 compared to years before as revenue from soymilk sales – spearhead product of QNS – was slower in 2016 due to “overall weak demand given rising competition from dairy products.”
In the first nine months of this year, Quang Ngai Sugar JSC received total VND5.3 trillion in revenue and VND807 billion in post-tax profit, a year-on-year decrease of 12 per cent and 19 per cent, respectively.
HSC also forecast that the third-largest sugar producer will move its listing to the HCM Stock Exchange from UPCoM in 12 to 18 months as “the authorities view UpCOM as a springboard to the main market” and “QNS is a large and very profitable company and will look a little out of place in UPCoM.” 
Ministry boosting econ zones   

 Imported meat forecast to flood Vietnamese market, HCM City guarantees loans for SMEs, Da Nang, Japanese bank ink agreement, Facebook touted as business development tool, Construction ministry warns against resort real estate glut
The Ministry of Planning and Investment is developing a decree aimed at boosting the development of industrial zones (IZs) and economic zones (EZs).
The ministry on its website said the issuance of the new decree was pressing as new models of IZs were already making an appearance, such as industrial-urban-service zones, and for the support of IZs and eco-industrial zones.
These new models of IZs would help enhance the competitiveness of IZs through diversifying investments, reducing production costs and promoting efficient use of resources but they needed mechanism for development.
The new decree was expected to wipe out inconsistencies in recently-issued legal documents, such as the Law on Investment and Decree 118/2015/ND-CP, which changed the procedure of investing in industrial and economic zones, and to improve competitiveness in attracting investment.
According to Tran Duy Dong, director of the ministry’s Economic Zone Management Department, the decree would introduce more attractive incentives to draw investment and simplify procedures.
Dong said the duration for the incentive of 10 per cent corporate tax rate on projects in EZs was proposed to increase from the current 15 years to 30 years.
The incentive would be provided to projects of a large scale, investing in technical infrastructure or using high technology, Dong said.
The department’s statistics showed that as of the end of November, there were 324 IZs and 16 EZs nationwide, with areas of 91,800ha and 815,000ha, respectively.
The figures excluded two EZs -- Thai Binh EZ in northern Thai Binh Province and Ninh Co EZ in northern Nam Dinh Province -- which were still in the planning stage.
Of them, 220 IZs were operational, with occupancy rate of 73 per cent.
Regarding investment attraction, IZs attracted more than 730 foreign-invested projects this year, with total registered capital of $11.2 billion. So far, IZs nationwide attracted nearly 7,000 foreign-invested projects, worth $110.2 billion, more than 60 per cent of which was disbursed.
Domestic investments in IZs totalled VND705.6 trillion in nearly 6,500 projects, so far.
The department said there were 36 IZs and non-tariff areas founded in 16 EZs.
As of November, EZs attracted VND155 trillion (US$6.9 billion) worth of investments in developing the technical infrastructure system, of which foreign investments accounted for some 16 per cent.
EZs have attracted 354 foreign-invested projects up till November, with total registered capital of $42 billion, plus more than 1,070 domestic projects worth VND347.9 trillion.
Central province vows to facilitate coffee exporters     
The Central Highlands province of Dak Lak will continue supporting coffee exporters in seeking and expanding their export outlets and co-operating with domestic and foreign partners.
According to Dak Lak People‘s Committee, the province’s coffee bean is being shipped to 75 countries and territories world-wide, with Japan, Switzerland and Germany being the largest importers.
In the 2016-17 crop, the province plans to export 230,000 tonnes of coffee beans, the committee said.
Meanwhile, Dak Lak also aims to double the ratio of processed products in its coffee exports, which currently account for only 7-10 per cent of its total coffee bean output in a year, following the province’s coffee development plan to 2020.
It also strives to increase the proportion of powder and instant coffee in coffee sales in both domestic and foreign markets to 14-15 per cent of each year’s crop, raising added value and improving farmers’ income.
The province has issued policies to encourage enterprises to invest in coffee processing factories with a capacity from 700 tonnes per year. Dak Lak is now home to 204,000ha of coffee farm, with an output of 450,000 tonnes of coffee beans each year. 
Milk price management reviewed before new rules take effect     
Many provinces have reviewed the price management activities for milk and other supplementary dietary products for children under six years of age, the Ministry of Industry and Trade has said.
The reviews were done ahead of the deadline to implement the Government’s Decree 149 on regulations for managing the price for milk and other supplementary dietary products of children under six, which comes into effect on January 1, 2017.
The People’s Committee of Bac Ninh Province has assigned the provincial department of industry and trade and the finance department to review the production and trading of these products. This will mean that organisations and individuals producing and trading milk and supplementary dietary products have to list and register the prices of the products.
The departments will review the price listing and registration forms, and Bac Ninh’s department of industry and trade will manage the rates based on Decree 149, reported Zing News.
Ha Tinh and several other provinces said they would also conduct similar activities to implement Decree 149.
On November 11, 2016, the government issued Decree 149, amending some articles of Decree 177, adding some articles to it and providing specific guidance on implementing some articles under the price law.
Until now, the finance ministry has managed the prices of milk products meant for children under six years of age. But from January 1, the ministry of industry and trade will take over the responsibility.
Milk products are included in the list for price stabilisation and have a ceiling price since June 2014. As per the ceiling price mechanism, the retail price can be maximum at 115 per cent of the wholesale price.
At present, 877 milk products for children under six have been listed and their registered prices released on the websites of the finance ministry and local finance departments across the nation. 
PM calls for stable Tet prices     
The Prime Minister has called on ministries and government agencies to tighten controls and take steps to ensure stable markets and social security during the upcoming Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday.
In a directive sent last week, PM Nguyen Xuan Phuc asked the Ministry of Industry and Trade to closely monitor market demand and supply, especially necessary goods and services, to timely take measures to ensure a supply source and reasonable prices nationwide during Tet, which falls in late January 2017.
The ministry was instructed to prevent counterfeit and low-quality goods without clear origins from being sold in the market and strictly punish those who speculate on products and cheat customers to earn illegal profits.
Besides preventing smuggling, fraud and counterfeit goods, the Ministry of Finance, was also asked to control market prices so that they remain stable before and after Tet.
Under the directive, the PM requested the State Bank of Viet Nam to ensure cash supply is sufficient for the economy during the holiday, ATM machines work properly and workers get paid before the festival.
The central bank was also instructed to take effective measures to ensure stability of monetary, foreign exchange and gold markets.
It was told to increase inspections and monitoring on operation of credit institutions and foreign banks’ branches to ensure the banking system’s safety and liquidity.
The directive requires the Ministry of Transport to ensure that there are sufficient vehicles for people to travel during the Tet holiday with their families, especially those in remote and disadvantaged areas, including those inhabited by ethnic minority communities.
It should also implement plans to keep unsafe and substandard vehicles off the roads, ask transport companies to publicise their rates and deliver tickets directly to passengers.
It asked the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to ensure that the agriculture sector continues production to meet market demand during the Tet holiday.
EU-Mutrap provides workshop on Vietnam-EU free trade agreement
The European Trade Policy and Investment Support Programme (EU-Mutrap) is a key ongoing project promoting economic development, inclusive growth and poverty reduction in Vietnam.
It is currently engaged in a US$17 million funded program for the period running August 27, 2012 to June 30, 2017.
At a workshop on December 20, the EU-Mutrap provided training for Vietnamese local businesses to learn about the trade opportunities accorded them by the Vietnam-EU free trade agreement.
The specific purpose of the workshop was to support the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade in facilitating sustainable international trade and investment through improved capacity for local businesses.
It is hoped this training will better help these companies further integrate into the global, ASEAN and sub-regional trade systems as well as improve their policymaking, policy consultation and the implementation of related commitments, particularly vis-à-vis the Vietnam-EU trade pact.
This trade pact is a modern and comprehensive deal. It will remove nearly all tariffs on goods traded between the two economies. It shows the shared conviction of the EU and Vietnam that trade is essential to growth, the creation of jobs and sustainable development.
Besides eliminating tariffs, Vietnam will also remove almost all its export duties. The agreement will equally create for both economies new market access opportunities in services and investment.
Vietnam has agreed to liberalize trade in financial services, telecommunications, transport, and postal and courier services. On investment, Vietnam will open its market to the EU by removing or easing limitations on certain segments such as manufacturing of food and beverages and of ceramics or plastic products.
In June 2016, the EU Delegation to Vietnam published a Guide to the Vietnam-EU trade agreement that provides first-hand information about the FTA as well as about the economic relations between EU and Vietnam.
This workshop is an extension of the guide aiming to ensure local businesses have adequate training and enhanced capacity to be able to benefit from the trade deal when it comes into full force by 2018.
Imported meat forecast to flood Vietnamese market
Imported meat has been forecast to prevail in the Vietnamese market, posing challenges for domestic products and businesses.
Vietnam’s husbandry sector is expected to face myriad difficulties in the near future when trade barriers are removed following the ratification of free trade agreements.
Along with Australian beef, meat imported from Europe, Japan, and Indonesia is anticipated to steal the heart of Vietnamese customers thanks to attractive quality and affordable prices, while domestic food is still offered at a rather high quote.
During the 14th Vietnam International Trade Fair recently held in Ho Chi Minh City, many visitors were intrigued by the presentation of a type of premium beef from Indonesia’s PT Santosa Agrindo company.
Safuan Kasno Soewondo, vice-president of the firm, was advertising his product to the Vietnamese consumers and seeking partners in the country.
Earlier in November, 42 businesses from member nations of the European Union had conducted a survey on the Vietnamese market.
According to Phil Hogan, EU’s commissioner of agriculture and rural development, the companies hoped to push forward their export of beef and pork to the Southeast Asian country once the EU-Vietnam free trade agreement takes effect.
Meat imports are still in high demand from local restaurants and hotels despite the currently high tax rate, between 14% and 30%, experts said, asserting that the products would flood the market if tariffs are removed.
While Indonesian and European businesses are aiming at the high-end segment in Vietnam, Australian beef is dominating the lower end of the spectrum.
According to the Animal Husbandry Association of Vietnam (AHAV), cost of domestic meat is high due to a limited source of animal feed and technology, making it difficult for Vietnamese meat to compete against its foreign equivalent.
Local businesses will grapple with more challenges when tax and other trade barriers are counted in as the result of free trade agreements.
“The poultry industry in the country has been heavily affected by cheap imported chicken. The beef and pork sectors could suffer as well,” said Nguyen Van Ngoc, an official from the AHAV.
The Vietnamese husbandry sector is still sluggish compared to other nations, Ngoc remarked, adding that it was not due to the lack of technology but how local businesses run their operations.
HCM City guarantees loans for SMEs
The HCM City Credit Guarantee Fund provided guarantees to eight projects of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in 2016 so they could get loans worth a total of 360 billion VND (16.07 million USD).
The total investment of these eight projects is 813 billion USD.
More than 200 SMEs received support from the HCM City Credit Guarantee Fund this year, which includes financial consultancy.
Credit guarantee for SMEs to procure bank loans was not as efficient as expected because of the requirement to mortgage assets, which SMEs found difficult to meet.
However, the situation is expected to improve as policies are to be amended and loans sanctioned based on the evaluation of a project’s efficiency rather than the mortgage of assets.
There are more than 120,000 SMEs in HCM City, which account for 96 percent of the total number of firms in the city.
Since it was formed in 2007, the HCM City Credit Guarantee Fund has provided loan guarantees to 121 SMEs, helping them procure loans worth 871 billion VND.
Statistics with the Finance Ministry show that there are 27 credit guarantee funds nation-wide with total charter capital of nearly 1.5 trillion VND. The outstanding loans that they have guaranteed total 361 billion VND.
At a conference on December 13, Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue urged that a mechanism be put in place to improve the efficiency of credit guarantee funds so they can better support SMEs, in line with Government Resolution 35 about developing businesses.
Da Nang, Japanese bank ink agreement
The Da Nang Investment Support and Promotion Board and Japan’s Gifu Shinkin bank have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on cooperation, investment promotion for small- and medium-sized enterprises from Japan in Da Nang city.
Gifu Shinkin, the largest bank in Gifu, Japan, has more than 156,000 customers, of which seven are Japanese enterprises in Da Nang.
Director of the city’s Investment Support and Promotion Board Le Canh Duong said this was the first MoU that the board had signed with a Japanese bank.
Japan is the biggest investor in Da Nang, with 113 projects worth 397.5 million USD – 10.78 percent of the accumulated foreign direct investment projects in the city – creating 32,000 jobs.
Eighty-four percent of Japanese investment is focused on manufacturing, food processing, construction and information technology, while healthcare, real estate, tourism and education have merged as new investment fields among Japanese investors in recent years.
Khanh Hoa: International arrivals surpass one-million mark
The number of international tourists to the south central province of Khanh Hoa in 2016 is estimated to reach 1.115 million, a 21-percent increase from 2015 and the first time meeting the 1-million mark.
According to the Khanh Hoa People’s Committee, along with the record number, the average duration of stay of international tourists in Khanh Hoa is 3.2 days, up 26 percent from 2015.
Chinese top the list of foreign tourists in Khanh Hoa, numbering more than 444,000 as of the end of October, a 3.3-fold increase against the same period last year.
Russia ranks second with over 200,000 visitors, representing a growth of 114 percent.
The number of holiday makers from India and Thailand also increased, but those from European Union, America and Oceania and many Asian countries plunged 25 percent.
At the same time, Khanh Hoa also welcomes 22.5 million domestic tourists.
Khanh Hoa attracts visitors for its beautiful sea and islands and temperate climate, with Nha Trang City being the main magnet.
HCGF cooperates with Saigon Bank to support SMEs
The HCMC Credit Guarantee Fund (HCGF) last Friday signed an agreement with Saigon Bank for Industry and Trade (SaigonBank) to help small and medium enterprises (SMEs) gain access to bank loans to fund their operations. 
HCGF and SaigonBank will cooperate to provide consultancy on feasible business and production plans, financial management and technology besides provision of capital for SMEs.
Vu Quang Lam, chairman of HCFG, said the fund’s credit guarantees for enterprises have shown signs of declining lately. Enterprises often approach HCGF to ask for credit guarantees when their projects are ineligible for bank loans.
However, under the prevailing rules, enterprises would have difficulty applying for credit guarantees as they are required to have assets as collateral.
Thanks to the new agreement with SaigonBank, HCGF will support enterprises in preparing feasible business plans and completing procedures so that they can gain easier access to bank loans as the time needed for the bank’s appraisal process is shortened. However, HCGF still has to ensure transparency and the bank will still decide which enterprises can borrow.
The Government plans to revise the regulations on credit guarantees in a way that allows SMEs to take out unsecured loans from banks. Therefore, HCGF will closely coordinate with SaigonBank in all steps, from appraising to handling arising risks in preparing themselves for the amendments in the coming time, Lam added.
Currently, there are more than 12,000 SMEs active in HCMC, accounting for 96% of the total number of enterprises in the city. SMEs play an increasingly important role in the country’s economy, especially in creating jobs.
Due to poor corproate governance, outdated technology and lack of premises, SMEs face stricter conditions for credit guarantees.
HCFG, established in March 2007, is the financial organization under the HCMC government. The fund is mandated to support SMEs to gain access to bank loans. As of the end of last year, HCGF had total chartered capital of VND232.36 billion. Of which, VND227.9 billion came from the city’s budget, or 98.1% of the fund’s chartered capital.
After ten years of operation, HCGF has signed 121 credit guarantee contracts worth VND871.2 billion, creating favorable conditions for SMEs to borrow a total of VND1.45 trillion.
Hoang Dinh Thang, director of HCGF, said the fund’s performance was dismal in the 2014-2015 period as most SMEs failed to meet the collateral requirement.  
Currently, the role of the credit guarantee fund is to provide consulting for enterprises to complete legal procedures so that their projects are eligible for bank loans.
This year HCGF has worked with 200 SMEs, and provided financial consultancy for 29 projects with total investment of nearly VND4.2 trillion and total loans of VND2.2 trillion. Of this number, eight projects have got the nod from banks or investors with total investment of VND813 billion and total loans of over VND360 billion.
Facebook touted as business development tool
Huynh Kim Tuoc, director of Asia-Pacific Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) Energy Markets at Facebook, insisted at a seminar last week that local enterprises should attend more to Facebook as a tool for business development.
Speaking at the seminar called “Updates and business model innovations for SMEs” in Can Tho City last week, Tuoc raised two questions: why enterprises should be interested in Facebook and what they should do to grow stronger on this platform.
To answer the first question, Tuoc said the number of Facebook users in Vietnam was huge, with over 45 million people accessing the social networking site at least once a month (as of September 2016). For daily use, there are about 28 million people, he said.
He noted that although television is a popular medium, its growth over the past 20 years has remained flat. “There are a lot of TV users, but strong growth has been seen in digital and mobile platforms,” he said.
Another reason why enterprises should care about Facebook is Vietnam is one of the leading countries on the high level of interaction between users and Facebook pages. In other words, when consumers are interested in a product or service, they tend to interact with businesses on Facebook, and Facebook measures such activities, Tuoc said.
“This is a sign that business growth on Facebook is very strong,” he said.
He believed Vietnam had the opportunity for healthy business development on a digital media platform thanks to the golden population and the technology that helps such population takeoff. “We have the chance, and should not let it fly,” he noted.
To further develop on the digital media platform, Tuoc said businesses should immediately set up their own Facebook pages, where they could advertise their products without any charge and conveniently interact with many different communities.
Enterprises can learn of their target customers thanks to the measurement tool on Facebook. Since all Facebook users have an identity, it is possible to figure out if they are young, old, male or female.
Meanwhile, Brandon Lim, commercial director of childcare at P&G Vietnam, brought up data on the marketing of diapers in 1976 and 2016 and asked: “What has changed and what remains the same over the past time?”
The love of a mother for her child has not changed, and so has the demand for childcare, but changes in the world have led to changes in the way of marketing, Lim said. “However, you should understand your target customers and that they are very knowledgeable about the value of your products, so you have to take note of this,” he suggested.
Construction ministry warns against resort real estate glut
Investors should be cautious in resort real estate projects as the strong growth of resort real estate this year may lead to an oversupply in the future, the Ministry of Construction advised.
Resort real estate has developed strongly since 2015 with many projects mainly in Danang, Khanh Hoa and Phu Quoc opened for sale, said Pham Van Truong, head of the real estate market management office under the ministry’s Department of House and Real Estate Market Management at a review conference on the real estate market in 2016 and market trends in 2017 held by the Vietnam Association of Property Brokers last Friday.
Many resort projects have been licensed in the coastal provinces. Particularly, there were 46 licensed projects covering more than 3,000 hectares in Khanh Hoa Province and 75 licensed projects occupying more than 2,000 hectares in Vung Tau.
If all of these projects are completed, there will be hundreds of thousands of villas, leading to an oversupply in the market, Truong said.
Nguyen Quoc Khanh, board chairman of DTJ Investment and Distribution Joint Stock Co., said at the conference that resort properties have boomed this year. The number of projects opened for sale has increased sharply this year while last year saw only one to two projects put up for sale.
There have been only two projects opened for sale in Danang and Lao Cai in the fourth quarter this year, the lowest quarterly number in 2016, but in the third quarter, there were as many as 11 projects opened up for sale in Khanh Hoa, Danang and Quang Ninh. 
This year has witnessed the recovery of the resort real estate market and a boom in the sector in three major destinations namely Danang, Nha Trang, and Phu Quoc. Some 35 projects with 12,000 apartments and 2,000 villas have been offered for sale, Khanh said. 
Thailand may slap anti-dumping tax on Vietnam steel sheets
Thailand may impose anti-dumping tariffs of up to 60.26% on color-coated steel sheets imports from Vietnam, according to the Vietnam Competition Authority under the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The Department of Foreign Trade (DFT) under the Thai Ministry of Commerce on December 12 released preliminary results of an anti-dumping probe into Vietnam’s color-coated steel sheets, including painted hot-dip galvanized cold rolled steel, or aluminum zinc alloy-coated cold rolled steel, with dumping margins expected to range from 4.51% to 60.26%.
DFT will give relevant businesses and agencies from Vietnam a chance to respond to the investigation results and send evidence to the department by January 6 before a hearing is organized on January 16.
The Thai agency said it had got a dumping investigation petition from NS BlueScope Company for an alleged dumping margin of up to 89.58% in September last year.
Statistics of the Vietnam Competition Authority show that the country’s exported steel products are subject to most anti-dumping lawsuits. As of May 2016, there had been 25 trade cases against Vietnam’s steel products, of which 18 were anti-dumping ones initiated by ASEAN nations like Thailand and Malaysia.
Earlier, the Vietnam Steel Association had requested producers of metallic-coated and color-coated steel sheets to reduce their export shipments and control selling prices to the Malaysian and Thai markets for risks of anti-dumping measures.
Steel firms of these two nations have repeatedly complained about huge volumes of Vietnam’s steel products imported into their countries at low prices, adversely affecting their production.
New Land VJ inaugurates modern warehouse in Binh Duong
New Land Vietnam Japan Joint Stock Company (New Land VJ) has put into operation a large modern warehouse worth a total of nearly US$10 million to meet cargo storage needs of manufacturers.
The facility of the joint venture between local firm New Land and two Japanese partners, Sojitz and Kokubu, covers 20,000 square meters at Binh An Textile Industrial Park in the southern province of Binh Duong.
Nguyen Minh Thong, managing director of New Land VJ, said the warehouse has enough room for a total of 15,500 pallets and serves customers in sectors like processed food, dairy goods, farm produce, poultry, meat, beverages and medical material.
Taku Imai from Sojitz said his company had got involved in this warehousing service venture because it had strong growth potential in Vietnam as a fast growing economy.
Kokubu is a leading distributor of food and alcoholic beverages in Japan with annual revenue of US$15 billion. It has business links with nearly 10,000 producers and 35,000 retailers.
Sojitz was the first foreign firm to be licensed to open a representative office in Hanoi. It has got involved in many projects, including those in power generation, fertilizer production and industrial park infrastructure development sectors.
Growers of bizarre fruits worry over fickle weather as Tet draws near
Fruit farmers specializing in unique and bizarre fruits typically grown for exclusive use during the Vietnamese Lunar New Year, or Tet, are under constant worry that the unpredictable weather hitting Vietnam over the past few weeks may affect their crops. 
The upcoming Tet holiday will fall on January 28, and farmers are hurriedly preparing special fruit to supply Vietnamese religious offering and ornamental needs during the celebration.
With local consumers willing to open their wallets for bizarre and unique gift ideas, local farmers have been trying to cash in by growing fruit in unique shapes.
Though their success has led them to increase supplies and develop new products for the upcoming holidays, recent foul weather has had a significant impact on their business.
In the southern city of Can Tho, Tran Thanh Liem, known for growing watermelons in the shape of gold bullion, is pessimistic about his yield for Tet. After planting over 4,000 seeds this year, Liem expects a meager 1,000 crop harvest.
Liem said he received several large orders for the fruit, but only signed contracts to supply 100 pairs to two businesses out of fear that his final supply will fall below expectations.
A pair of 1.5kg gold bullion-shaped watermelons fetches VND2.5 million (US$112), and VND3 million (US$134) for those weighing 2kg each.
Similarly, growers of special grapefruits shaped like bottle gourds in An Giang Province also expect to see their yields drop compared to last Tet. Many said they will only be able to supply the market with 2,400 fruits compared to 10,000 last year.
To make up for the dwindling supply, farmers will introduce new products with calligraphic texts reading ‘fortune’ and ‘luck’ besides the bottle gourd shape.
‘Phoenix pineapple’ growers are facing the same struggle. As the name suggests, the ‘phoenix pineapple’ has red inflorescence, making it look like the mythical bird.
Many Vietnamese believe that displaying this kind of fruit during Tet will bring them peace and luck.
However, Luu Van Luom, who is waiting to harvest his 1,000 phoenix pineapples, said bad weather will greatly affect his yield.  He expects only 60 to 70% of his crop to meet acceptable standards for sale.
Huynh Thanh Tam, a farmer in Ben Tre Province known creating coconut with text imprints, is also unhappy with the recent weather.
Tam was able to sell 300 of his coconuts during last year’s Tet holiday and chose to increase this year’s crop to 2,000.
However, Tam is worried that the bad weather may reduce his final yield.
“The unusual rain at this time of year may cause the young coconuts to crack when put into moulds to have the text pressed onto their shells,” Tam said.
Still, many farmers do not appear shaken by the unsettled weather.
Huynh Thanh Khoa, the ‘father’ of special mangos with skins bearing calligraphic texts such as ‘luck’, ‘longevity’ and ‘fortune’ decided to increase his supply by 5,000 fruits from 1,200 last year.
The Dong Thap-based farmer said he will introduce a new product this year - mangos that bear the Vietnamese map on their skins.
“Some partners in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City have placed orders for more than 1,000 mangos,” he said.
Conference talks AEC’s influence on young workers
The impact of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) on the lives of students and young workers in HCM City was the main focus of a conference in HCM City on December 25. 
The event aimed to help improve understanding among local young people and labourers of job opportunities and required skills in the regional integration.
It drew 133 young scientists who presented 79 reports, focusing on opportunities and challenges facing students and young workers when the the AEC is officially formed, measures to improve their skills and integration capacity.
Participants shared the view that the city has seen an increase in the number of skilled and educated workers. However, the quality is still yet to meet socio-economic development and integration requirements.
They suggested joint efforts made by local authorities, enterprises and training institutions to improve local human resources quality.
Delegates called on young workers to keep learning new technologies and necessary skills, particularly foreign languages.
More attention should be paid to job placement to ensure market-oriented training.
Thai Nguyen: Master plan on Nui Coc lake development announced
Deputy Prime Minister Vuong Dinh Hue has lauded the northern mountainous province of Thai Nguyen’s optimal conditions for tourism development, particularly Nui Coc lake and tea culture.
He made the praise during a local ceremony on December 25 to announce a master plan on developing the Nui Coc lake national tourist area to 2025 with orientations to 2030. 
The Deputy PM suggested attention should also be paid to the maintenance and preservation of ecological environment within and around the lake, given that the lake also helps with irrigation, aquaculture and flood prevention. 
Hue revealed that the government will devise an action plan to materialise the government’s resolution on Vietnam’s tourism restructuring for 2016-2020, which focuses on tourism infrastructure, environment and products imbued with traditional cultural characteristics. 
Apart from calling on strategic investors, the province was advised to develop community-based tourism, considering the people a crucial factor during the process. 
According to the Deputy PM, the government has directed ministries and agencies to refine policies regarding investment, taxation, fees, electricity and e-visa while strengthening State management in tourism. 
As part of the capital zone master plan and the country’s third largest hub of human resources development, Thai Nguyen must become economically and militarily strong, he stated. 
At the event, he also witnessed the signing of 10 investment projects in the fields of electricity, tourism, infrastructure and telecommunications worth over 45 trillion VND (1.95 billion USD) in total, and a ceremony to begin the construction of Nui Coc lake road, one of the first works in the master plan. 
According to the Nui Coc lake master plan, 1,200ha, exclusive of water surface, will be earmarked for the development of a national tourist area, which will offer sightseeing and resort, water sports and community-based ecological services in association with Tam Dao national park in Quan Chu commune. 
The lake is expected to be recognised as a national tourist area before 2025. By 2030, it looks to be a major ecological and resort centre of the country and serves 4 million tourists, earning nearly 2 trillion VND (86.9 million USD). 
In the morning the same day, the official attended a ceremony announcing the PM’s decision on approving adjustments to the Thai Nguyen master plan by 2035 and beginning the construction of a flood-proof system on Cau River and completing urban infrastructure on two banks of the river. 
The project, costing over 18 trillion VND (780 million USD), comprises nine components invested by a joint venture between Phuc Loc Group and the Civil Engineering Construction Corporation (CIENCO) No.8 in the public-private partnership and build-transfer model. 
The Deputy PM emphasised that the adjustments aim to develop Thai Nguyen into an economic, cultural, education, health care, tourism and service centre in the northern mountainous and midland region, and in the development quadrangular of the northern key economic region. 
On the occasion, he presented the PM’s decision to the provincial authorities.
Sellers get creative for lucrative Xmas season
As Vietnamese tend to spend more money during the Christmas season, many local enterprises tried all possible ways to satisfy there “God’s” demands.
Alongside other popular Christmas gifts and ornaments, the Christmas market this year offered more exclusive and unique options.
HCM City-based enterpriseimported about 200 real pine trees by sea from Oregon, United States.
According to Diep Nguyen, the owner of the enterprise, the company decided to import such a large number of real trees after the first two attracted a great deal of attention from customers last Christmas.
“The import procedure is quite complicated, so we had to place our orders in August and received the support from the US National Christmas Tree Association”, she told Tuoi Tre daily.
Even before these Christmas trees docked at the port in HCM City, half of them were booked online with costs ranging from 3 – 8 million VND (130-150 USD), depending on the height of the tree (from 1.8 m to 2.7m). The buyers were mostly foreign expatriates or wealthy local families.
While the real trees seem to be for a group of limited customers, the plastic ones – in different height, colours and eye-catching decorations, were available in every supermarket and shopping mall across the city.
All the Christmas shops located on Luong Nhu Hoc and Hai Thuong Lan Ong Streets in District 5 started their high business season from mid-October.
Ho Thi Minh Tam, the owner of a shop on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, District 5, said all 20 plastic trees and nearly 1,000 ball ornaments that she imported from Thailand for the first time had been sold out within a week.
According to Tam, those products attracted customers because their prices are the same or even slightly cheaper than other similar Made in Vietnam products.
Over the past two years, Christmas gifts and ornaments from Thailand have increased their presence in the Vietnam market.
Ho Kim Cuc, who runs a Christmas shop on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, said her shop had rented 15 large-size Christmas trees out to different offices with prices ranging from 2-4 million VND (87-175USD), which were just one-third the purchase price.
This year, the Christmas market witnessed significant participation of many local producers.
According to a representative of the Kim Lap Christmas shop on Hai Thuong Lan Ong Street, two thirds of the 6,000 products that his shop sold in the first 10 days of this month are products that are made in Vietnam.
The increase in Vietnamese Christmas products was thanks to the increasing awareness of local enterprises of the potential market. That was why they hadpaid attention to improving both quality and design of products.
Owner of the Phuong Thao shop on Luong Nhu Hoc Street, Nguyen Phuong Thai, said she stored 6,000 Christmas costumes created by local producers.
“With 20 different designs the price was  10 percent to 20 percent cheaper than other imported costumes. That was why the ones made by local producers have magnetised customers. At the moment, thousands of Christmas costumes that we stored are almost sold out”, she said.
Vo Hong Tan, director of Doma Vina – a company specialisng on paper quilling products said his company introduced to the market more than 2,000 products in this festive season, of which the best sellers were Santa Claus, X’Mas tree and bell.
Like any other previous years, the seasonal service – Santa Claus delivers gifts to children – was still a flourishing business, as the demand from customers has increased year after year.
Ngo Thi Phuong Loan, owner of the Beyeume gift shop on 3 Thang 2 Street in District 10, said that her shop had to recruit a “Santa Claus” a month before Christmas.
According to her, the service fee this year has increased between 15 percent and 20 percent compared to last year, when it was between 90,000 VND and 100,000 VND to between 120,000 VND and 130,000 VND.
“However, that price was for the service offered a few days before Christmas. A day before Christmas Eve, the price was more, at 160,000 VND, and at 200,000 VND on Christmas Eve”, Loan said.
Most of the recruited “Santa Claus” were students.

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