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BUSINESS IN BRIEF 2/3

 Local indices make gains on return from Tet holiday break; Ministry of Construction may increase size of social housing; Foreign investment hits high note; ANZ: Consumer confidence grows in Feb; January car sales accelerate year-on-year

Local indices make gains on return from Tet holiday break

Two main indexes on the market, the VN-Index and HNX-Index, had a slight increase to finish last week.

The VN-Index gained 0.91 per cent to close the week at 592.57 points, while the HNX-Index rose 0.6 per cent to 85.77 points.

Further, the VN30-Index and the HN30-Index, capturing 30 of the largest codes in terms of capitalisation and liquidity in the southern and northern bourses, gained 0.19 and 0.3 per cent to conclude the week at 618.39 and 165.69 points, respectively.

On the HCM City Stock Exchange, the average trading volume reached 79.7 million shares, an increase of 15 per cent over the week before Tet, while the average trading volume on the Ha Noi Stock Exchange was 38.5 million shares, an increase of 27 per cent over the week before Tet.

Meanwhile, the first trading session on February 24 was active, with the VN-Index gaining 10 points to close the session at 596.95 points, as banking stocks and foreign investors were the focus during the session.

Banking shares remained the most influential stocks on both markets since the market closed for the Tet holiday. Vietcombank (VCB) was the focus of the markets when VCB became the most improved code on the list at the end of the day. Foreign investors also finished the first session as net buyers, with a total value of VND127 billion ($6 million) and a trading volume of 3.8 million shares.

During the following sessions, stock holders sold more to gain profits, which limited the markets from improving. However, this significantly increased the liquidity on both markets. Top stocks, including Ocean Group Joint Stock Company (OGC) and FLC Joint Stock Company (FLC), were also the top traders on the market last week.

In the final trading session, both markets were less active compared to previous sessions. The Petro Viet Nam Gas Joint Stock Corporation (GAS) was the only large-cap stock that increased slightly on the chart. However, its increase was not sufficient to raise the VN-Index, as other large-cap stocks were declining.

In addition, foreign investors continued to be net buyers, with a total of VND496.7 billion ($23.6 million) and a volume of 23.8 million shares on both markets. However, foreign purchases decreased during the week, from a peak of VND300 billion ($14.28 million) to VND36.4 billion ($1.73 million) at the end of the week.

Of note, the BIDV Security Company (BSC) predicted that VN-Index would be likely to decline to nearly 580 points. The decrease in foreign investments during last week created a strong impact on the stock market, while domestic demand was not strong enough to maintain the index at 600 points. The VN-Index will only reach 590 points if foreign investors remain net buyers this week.

Potential stocks to be invested this week include Bao Viet Holdings (BVH), Techcombank (CTG), Hoa Phat Group (HPG) and Petro Viet Nam Drilling (PVD).

Ministry of Construction may increase size of social housing

The Ministry of Construction has proposed that the maximum area of social housing apartments be raised to 90 square metres (sq.m.) from the current 70sq.m.

The proposal is part of the draft decree on the development and management of social housing projects, which has evoked mixed opinions from experts about its reasonableness and impact on the development of such projects.

The ministry said increasing the maximum area of social housing apartments is aimed at meeting the demand for accommodation made by households with seven to eight members, who had found the 70sq.m. apartments too cramped.

Several real-estate companies also deemed the proposal reasonable.

Luu Minh Ngoc, general director of the Bac Son Group said the proposal, if approved, will provide a wider range of choice in terms of apparent areas for developers and offer a better fit for home-buyers' demand.

However, with its selling price of about VND12 million (US$560) per square metre, the price of an apartment with an area of 90sq.m. will be roughly VND1 billion ($47,150), which might prove to be unaffordable for low-income earners.

Nguyen Thu Huong, a desk worker in Ha Noi, who is looking to buy a social housing apartment said that a 90sq.m. apartment can meet accommodation demand for large families.

In addition, home buyers will also have more choices.

Pham Sy Liem, deputy president of the Viet Nam Federation of Civil Engineering Association, expressed his worry that the VND30 trillion ($1.42 billion) support package for low-income earners to buy houses will hardly meet demand and fewer people will benefit from the support package.

Experts also pointed out that real-estate companies might benefit from converting inventory apartments with a 90sq.m. area into social housing apartments.

According to the draft, the design standard for a social housing apartment is a minimum of 25sq.m. and a maximum of 90sq.m.

Buyers or lease-purchasers of social housing apartments will be allowed to sell, mortgage or lease the apartments only after paying off their loans and granting land use right certificates, the draft said. In addition, profit earned from a social housing project must be less than 10 per cent of the total investment cost.

Companies scramble to resume work

Companies in many industries have hit the ground running after the long Lunar New Year holidays to ensure that export orders are executed on schedule.

The top management of the Garment 10 Joint Stock Company, for instance, encouraged their workers to return in time after Tet and ensure production of suits and shirts gets back into full swing to export to Japan, the US and Europe.

General director Nguyen Thi Thanh Huyen said though 2014 had been a difficult year the company had still managed impressive growth and forecast more of the same this year.

Last year the company had achieved sales of VND2.188 trillion (US$103 million), 17.6 per cent up from the previous year, she said.

To achieve that, the company had invested VND148.8 billion ($7.08 million) in modern technologies and equipment to achieve top quality, she said.

Deputy general director Than Duc Viet said the company has enough orders to remain busy the whole year.

"The company expects to grow by 10-15 per cent this year, 50 per cent of which will be contributed by exports."

This year, besides nurturing traditional markets like the US, EU and Japan, the company plans to diversify its markets to reduce risk, he added.

South Korea is one of the company's new markets. In 2014 its exports to the country doubled thanks to the Viet Nam-South Korea Free Trade Agreement.

Le Tien Truong, deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Textile and Garment Association, also forecast strong growth in 2015.

"In January the industry's exports were estimated at $1.9 billion, up 1.2 per cent over the same period last year. Many products were exported to new markets like Turkey, Africa and the Middle East."

The leather and footwear industry also made an impressive start to the year, with exports exceeding $1 billion in January, a year-on-year increase of 23 per cent.

Hopeful of taking advantage of the free trade agreements with the EU and South Korea and, especially, the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, the footwear industry expects to achieve exports of $13.5-14 billion this year.

Fisheries processing companies also began export shipments immediately after Tet as 90 per cent of their workers reported back for duty.

Among them was Minh Phu Seafood Company based in the southern province of Hau Giang.

Cuttlefish, octopus, crab, surimi, and sea fishes are the company's biggest export items, particularly to Russia, and helped the company achieve high export growth, according to its director, Le Van Hung.

Phan Van Binh, general director of the Nhat Nam Wood Processing Company, said most companies in the wood processing industry have export deals that would take until the second quarter to execute.

"The company is now focused on completing US export orders by early March," he said, referring to Nhat Nam.

Viet Thanh Company, which specialises in export packaging, resumed work as early as on February 23 since it had many orders on hand.

Kien Giang’s two-month export surges 24 percent

The Mekong Delta province of Kien Giang raked in nearly 60 million USD in exports during the first two months of this year, a 24 percent increase from the same months last year.

Of the total, the export value of farm products accounted for 28.8 million USD and that from aquatic items was 27.5 million USD.

The locality has set to earn 526 million USD from exports in 2015, up 6 percent against 2014. The figure will include 315 million USD from agro-products and 170 million USD from aquatic products.

To realise its target, the local authorities are focusing on intensifying trade promotion activities in traditional markets, while seeking to expand export in new ones.

Local producers and exporters are required to increase investment in renovating equipment and technologies so as to create high-added value goods.

The local authorities also pay attention to outlining appropriate measures to solve difficulties facing enterprises in their production and business.-

HCM City attracts US$500 million FDI in Feb

Ho Chi Minh City garnered US$506.3 million from foreign direct investment (FDI) in February, up 170.5% against the same period last year.

Of the figure, US$421 million were invested in 44 new projects, up 5.1% in the number of projects and 180% in capital while US$84.6 million were added to 20 existed ones, up 53.9% and 131%, respectively.

Le Hoang Quan, Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee, said FDI garnering in the first two months obtained significant progress, showing that reform policies have paid off. In the coming time, the completion of Dong Nam and Ba Son industrial zones will open new prospects for attracting FDI to the city.

Meanwhile, director of HCM City’s Planning and Investment Department Thai Van Re said domestic investment has also been optimistic with the increase in both the number of registered businesses and capital. For instance, 3,826 businesses were granted investment licences with a combined capital of VND18,297 billion, a rise of 58% in business number and 34% in registered capital value against the same period last year.

Also in the first two months of this year, foreign businesses decided to invest more than US$367 million into the city’s industrial and export-processing zones.

Ba Ria- Vung Tau licenses 9 projects

Authorities in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau awarded nine investment certificates to domestic and foreign projects with a combined capital of US$123 million at a Spring Investment Fair on February 27.

The new licences include two Japanese projects with US$20 million in capital operating in steel manufacturing.

Looking forward, Ba Ria-Vung Tau will prioritise investment in the support industry, logistics, sea ports, human resources, tourism, and service sectors, according to Secretary of the provincial Party Committee Nguyen Tan Minh.

So far, the province has attracted 290 foreign and 424 domestic investment projects with a total registered capital of nearly US$27 billion and VND230 trillion (US$10.7 billion), respectively.

At the investment fair, a contract-signing ceremony for Phase A2 of the MGM Grand Ho Tram Tourism Complex project was held by the domestic contractor Coteccons and the investor Ho Tram Company Ltd.

Ho Tram Strip Complex is situated across 164 hectares in Xuyen Moc District, Ba Ria Vung Tau province with total investment of US$4.2 billion.

Foreign investment hits high note

Foreign direct investment (FDI) in Vietnam surged in the first two months of the year as multinational companies have lined up to take advantage of the nation’s favourable tax and trade conditions.

Vietnam’s Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) recently revealed that its preliminary tally of newly registered and supplementary investment for existing projects for the first two months of the calendar year was just shy of US$1.192 billion, up sharply from a year earlier.

Meanwhile disbursements of FDI also jumped on-year to roughly US$1.2 billion, a good omen for the New Year.

The top three investors for the two month period were the British Virgin Islands with investment of US$351.39 million, followed by the Republic of Korea at US$222.11 million and Japan at US$169.83 million.

HCM City topped the list of 23 cities and provinces attracting the most investment while the northern port city of Hai Phong and Binh Duong province ranked second and third respectively.

Exports from foreign investment including crude oil reached US$15.888 billion, representing an increase of 12.4% compared to the same period last year, contributing US$2.03 to the nation’s trade surplus.

God of Wealth drives demand for gold

Domestic gold demand is expected to surge sharply today as Vietnamese prefer buying the metal to mark the God of Wealth Day–the tenth day of the Lunar New Year.

It is believed that buying gold on this day, when the God of Wealth is said to return to heaven, brings good luck and prosperity throughout the year.  

The habit of buying the precious metal on this day has become popular in the northern cities and provinces only during the last three years, while it was commonly observed in the southern region for a long time.

To meet the predicted upswing in gold demand, major gold sellers have built up a considerable inventory of small gold bars. Last year, many gold sellers had to suffer because of a shortage of stocks after a higher-than-expected number of consumers flocked to buy gold on that day.

Gold traders expect many seekers of good fortune to queue up outside local stores to buy the precious metal as has been the case in previous years. They have also forecast gold demand to trend higher than previous years on the God of Wealth Day.

Gold company DOJI said it has produced about 50,000 gold products to be sold on the God of Wealth Day, much higher than last year's 30,000 products.

The Bao Tin Minh Chau and Phu Quy gold sellers also confirmed they have tripled their output of unique gold items to be sold on this day.

Major gold companies, such as SJC, Bao Tin Minh Chau, DOJI and Phu Quy have also switched to selling different kinds of gold products to replace the gold bars, including packaged gold rings and sheets showcasing the 12 animals of the zodiac.

Yesterday, gold traders also hiked the selling prices by hundreds of thousands of dong, compared with the day before.

DOJI listed the price of a tael at VND35.69 million (US$1,667.8), up VND240,000 against the previous day. Phu Nhuan PNJ and SJC also raised prices by VND190,000 and VND200,000 per tael to VND35.62 million and VND35.68 million, respectively.

Exports help lower trade deficit

A surge in exports has seen Vietnam's trade deficit drop sharply in the first two months of the year, the General Statistics Office (GSO) said.

At the end of February, the trade deficit stood at 61 million USD, much lower than the 361 million USD recorded in January, it said.

Le Thi Minh Thuy, head of GSO's commerce department, said that with the long Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday falling in February, enterprises had rushed to fulfill their export contracts.

This saw the export value soar to 9.6 billion USD, 300 million USD higher than February imports, she said.

This difference accounted for the fall in trade deficit for the first two months compared to just January, she added.

In the first two months, a year-on-year increase of 8.6 percent in export value saw it reach 23.66 billion USD, against a corresponding surge of 23.4 percent in import value pushed it to 23.05 billion USD.

During the two months, foreign investment enterprises were the major exporters with a total export value of 16 billion USD, 12.4 percent higher than the same period last year. Meanwhile, domestic enterprises gained 7 billion USD, a slight surge of 0.7 percent.

The products of the FDI enterprises that earned large export values included electronics, computers and their components (2.12 billion USD, up 57.1 percent); telephones and components (4 billion USD, up 15.3 percent); other kinds of machines and equipment (1.11 billion USD, up 19.2 percent); and textile and garments (3.41 billion USD, up 17.7 percent).

Several export products of domestic enterprises did not grow in export value, including crude oil with an export value of 604 million USD, down 40.9 percent; rice with 237 million USD, down 35.6 percent; seafood with 875 million USD, down 12.6 percent; and coffee with 511 million USD, down 16.4 percent; as well as rubber with 202 million USD, down 6.3 percent.

Vietnam mainly imported goods for producing and assembling products for export. these imports were electronic products, computers and their components with a total import value of 3.27 billion USD, up 31.9 percent; telephones and components with 1.51 billion USD, up 26.2 percent; cloth with 1.28 billion USD, up 12.6 percent; and steel with 1.69 billion USD, up 15.6 percent.

Meanwhile, the value of petrol and oil imports fell 52.2 percent to reach 621 million USD.

China was still the largest import market of Vietnam, compared with other import markets such as the Association of South-East Asian Nations, the Republic of Korea, Japan and the European Union, besides the United States.

ANZ: Consumer confidence grows in Feb

ANZ Bank predicted that the Year of the Goat could well be an auspicious year for household consumption in Vietnam after consumer confidence has grown this month.

According to a report the bank released on February 25, the ANZ-Roy Morgan Vietnam Consumer Confidence has risen by 6.9 points to 142.3 in February with large increases in confidence for all indicators, well above the 2014 average of 133.3.

In terms of personal finances, 38% (up five percentage points) of Vietnamese said their families are ‘better off’ financially than a year ago compared to 21% (unchanged) who said their families are ‘worse off’ financially.

Of the respondents, 58% (up five percentage points) of Vietnamese expect their families will be ‘better off’ financially this time next year compared to just 7% (up one percentage point) who expect to be ‘worse off’ financially.

Over the next 12 months, 58% (up eight percentage points) said Vietnam will have ‘good times’ financially and only 13% (down one percentage point) expect ‘bad times’ financially.

In addition, 50% (up seven percentage points) of Vietnamese said now is a ‘good time to buy’ major household items compared to 10% (down one percentage point) who said now is a ‘bad time to buy’ major household items.

Glenn Maguire, ANZ Chief Economist for South Asia, ASEAN and Pacific, said in the report that the Lunar New Year has been ushered in with  

Vietnamese households displaying a record level of optimism on three key components of the consumer confidence index.

A record number of Vietnamese believe that they and their families are better off now than this time last year and a record number of Vietnamese similarly believe that they and their families will be better off a year from now. Not surprisingly, a record number of Vietnamese believe now is a good time to buy a major household item.

“The details of the consumer confidence survey provide us with some optimism that the dichotomy between external and domestic demand could well start to narrow over the course of 2015. Though we forecast the Vietnamese economy to remain on a sure and steady growth recovery over  

2015-2016, the underperformance of the domestic sector may have made the extent of the recovery in external demand less apparent to ordinary households,” Maguire said.

With a more evenly distributed growth recovery aided by 50 basic points of rate cuts and several discrete Vietnam dong revaluations over the year, Vietnamese consumer confidence is likely to remain skewed towards the optimistic in the year ahead. This bodes well for a gradual strengthening in household consumption.

Sugar sector urged to make radical reforms for int’l integration

Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Nguyen Cam Tu, who is also chairman of the Steering Committee for International Economic Integration, has granted an extensive elaboration on the real situation and solutions for the sugar sector in the country in response to media regarding the  

recent imports of sugar produced by Vietnamese Hoang Anh Gia Lai group's factory in Laos's Attapeu Province in the 2013-14 crop.

From my perspective, since the establishment of the sugar sector, the state has always paid special attention to developing and protecting the industry by high tariffs barriers. Even though Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and implemented the roadmap to reduce tax under WTO commitments, the sector has been protected by the state.

Recently, under ASEAN nations’ common commitments for integration process, Vietnam has offered preferential tariffs of 5% to member nations for white and raw sugar while it offers an import tax of just 2.5% for Laos.

It can be said that at present, the sugar industry has been protected by the State compared to other important sectors such as garment and textile, footwear, rice and coffee.

Firstly, high price is the most problem for the industry. Over the years, Vietnamese people have to consume sugar at a price nearly doubling the figure compared to the world market. The situation is attributed to four main factors including lack of renovations from relevant agencies for the development, lack of high-yield breeds of sugar, poor cultivation techniques and obsolete and small scale production technologies.

Secondly, factories are not keen to support farmers when the price of sugar fluctuates in the country. Therefore, farmers are willing to cut down sugar canes to grow another plants to make profit.

Thirdly, there remain shortcomings in the method of business. Businesses often complain about the quality of sugar products from factories.  In addition, sugar factories have not built their direct trade ties with foreign partners and have to rely on broker businesses to export their products abroad, leading to low productivity, high product costs and price.

Fourthly, there is a lack of co-ordination. Although the sector has established the Vietnam Sugar and Sugar Cane Association (VSSA), member businesses lack effective cooperation to make breakthroughs.

These are the main reasons which make the sugar price too high. Therefore, there should be fundamental renovations in the industry to meet the requirements for international integration. Integration under the roadmap will be the driving force to make reforms which need the involvements from state management agencies, associations and businesses.

To face competition in the context of integration, weak businesses should merge and establish big companies like the recent restructuring of the banking sector. Therefore, let potential companies such as Hoang Anh Gia Lai buy these factories to make fundamental changes.

The sugar factory in Laos is invested by Hoang Anh Gia Lai group- a Vietnamese enterprise with loans from Vietnamese banks. It has generated jobs to thousands of people from both nations and most of the factory staff are Vietnamese.

It can be said that in fact, Hoang Anh Gia Lai has just leased land from Laos and its products are “Made-in Vietnam”. The success of the group’s factory in Laos means that a Vietnamese enterprise has been successfully. If the enterprise has not operated effectively, Vietnamese banks will lose money and workers will lose their jobs, causing the burden for the national economy.

In fact, sugar imports from Laos by Hoang Anh Gia Lai are “Made in Vietnam” sugar. The sugar sector and local businesses should not wait for the State’s protection any longer. Instead, they should restructure and merge to compete with the group.

If businesses can compete with a successful enterprise like Hoang Anh Gia Lai, they can secure a firm foothold under the pressure of stiff competition from thousands of businesses in the region and the world especially the ASEAN Economy Community which is expected to establish late this year. In addition, the signed and upcoming free trade agreements will pose challenges for businesses in the time ahead.

The relationship between Vietnam and has been nurtured for thousands of years. Especially, over the past seven decades, the time-honoured relationship has been fostered by top leaders from the two parties, states and people.

International integration is the correct policy of the Party and State. The process has posed both challenges and opportunities which have required the Government, associations and other sectors including sugar sector to make reforms for rapid development and help the national economy catch up with the region and the world. Our real motto is “Reform or failure in the international economic integration”.

Doosan Vina delivers first pressure tanks to refinery

Doosan Heavy Industries Vietnam (Doosan Vina) has delivered the first shipment of hi-tech pressure equipment to the Nghi Son Refinery & Petrochemical (NSRP) project being built in central Thanh Hoa province.

Following the contract signed last March, Doosan Vina's Chemical Processing Equipment (CPE) factory will produce and ship a total of 450 tonnes of hi-tech pressure tanks to the plant.

The first batch included a tank with a diameter of 4.48m, 19m long and weighing more than 36 tonnes.

January car sales accelerate year-on-year

Automobile sales touched 19,979 units in January, down 1 percent from December, but surged 80 percent from a year ago, a Vietnam Automobile Manufacturers Association (VAMA) report stated.

However, the report also pointed out the existing gap between the growth in sales of complete-knock-down (CKD) and completely-built-up (CBU) automobiles.

Data showed that 13,487 CKD autos were sold in January, reflecting a rise of 69 percent from the same month last year, while the sales of CBU autos reached 6,492 units, up 110 percent.

January was also the month leading to the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, which often sees an upswing in auto purchases and many vehicle manufacturers report record sales during the month.

Toyota Motor Vietnam (TMV) sold 4,262 units in January this year, jumping 35 percent over the same period last year and reflecting a record high sale for January in the last two decades.

Ford Vietnam also recorded a 60 percent growth in sales over the same period last year to 1,523 units.

VAMA's data showed that Thaco led car sales in January with the sale of 5,747 units, reflecting a 169 percent jump. Thaco also accounted for 35.7 percent of the market share, followed by TMV with a market share of 26.5 percent.

With strong sales reported in January, car manufacturers expect higher growth this year.

In 2014, automobile sales in Vietnam reached 157,800 units, up by 43 percent from the previous year.

Online shopping on the rise in Vietnam

Online shopping in Vietnam was continuing to increase and was well-positioned to hold the key to success for e-commerce in the country, according to the MasterCard Survey on Online Shopping 2014.

The MasterCard Survey is commissioned annually and was conducted online from October to December last year in 14 Asia Pacific countries and 11 Middle Eastern and African countries with a minimum of 500 respondents per country.

The number of Vietnamese people who shopped online in the last three months increased from 68.4 to 80.2%, recording the second highest growth rate (11.8%) in the Asia Pacific region, the survey revealed.

More than two-thirds said online shopping was one of the reasons to access the internet, up by 13.8% from last year. Female respondents and 35-44 years old remained the most likely to make purchases online, with 85.1% and 86.5% of them respectively having made at least one purchase in the last three months.

According to the survey, attitudes towards online shopping had not changed much, as Vietnamese shoppers still consider online reviews before purchasing (76.8%), prefer a hotline number for enquiries (74%) and tend to go to the same sites again (72%).

The website's reputation (83.8%), convenient payment methods (81%) and exchange/return policies (81%) remained the most important considerations for online shoppers. These were followed by price/value of items, security of payment and positive online reviews of products.

The satisfaction level of Vietnamese online shoppers rose by 7.4% from last year, with 62.1% respondents saying they were satisfied with online shopping. In addition, the number of respondents who indicated that they would make an online purchase in the next six month rose slightly to 93% from 91.4% last year, which is the second highest in the Asia Pacific region behind China (96.4%).

Mobile commerce is also blossoming. Compared to previous years, more respondents made purchases through their mobile phones in the last three months, rising from 34.9% in 2013 to 45.2% in 2014.

"Online shopping in Vietnam continues to experience significant growth and is shaping up to dethrone in-store shopping in the very near future," said Arn Vogels, country manager of MasterCard Indochina.

"Online shopping and mobile commerce are expected to continue to increase, which will bring about greater benefits and convenience for consumers while contributing to boosting non-cash payments in Vietnam," he added.

Industrial production rises 12% at start of 2015

Vietnam's index of industrial production (IIP) grew by 12% in the first two months of this year over the same period last year, the General Statistics Office (GSO) reported late last week.

The growth rate, which was 5.4% during this time last year, nearly doubled, GSO economists said, adding that various sectors showed signs of stable performance.

In the first two months, the consumption index which reflects domestic demand, increased 18.7% year-on-year, much higher than 3.4% last year during the same period.

The manufacturing and processing industries, which contributed up to 9.1 percentage points to the overall growth, expanded by 12.9%.

About 37.9 million units of mobile phones were produced during two months, up 89.3% year-on-year. Production of television sets reached 700,000 units, an increase of 64.1%, while automobiles hit 22,100 units, a rise of 52.1%.

The yield attained in case of raw iron and steel was 464,200 tonnes, up 47.6%, and the quantity of chemical paint reached 103,300 tonnes, rising by 33.3%.

In case of certain goods, gains were either slow or even declined, however, due to decreasing demand or stiffer competition from imported products.

Crude oil exploitation reached 2.76 million tonnes, an increase of 9.7%, and NPK fertiliser production reached 325,300 tonnes, a rise of 1.4%.

Motorbikes production reached 557,500 units and liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) production reached 114,000 tonnes, both declining by 8.9%, while beer production reached 457 million litres, down by 1.2%.

GSO experts said developments in the domain of industrial production were still potentially uncertain as the number of enterprises failing to survive economic obstacles soared this year.

More than 14,000 companies had to cease operations during the first two months, up 25% year-on-year, while more than 2,000 firms were dissolved, a year-on-year rise of 8.7%.

More enterprises were set up this year, even though the registered number was 2,330 less than the number of failed firms.

The newly-established companies have an average equity of VND5.6 billion (US$267,000), while the capital of failed businesses averaged VND10 billion (US$476,000).

Foodex Japan 2015 attracts local businesses

Seventeen Vietnamese businesses have registered to take part in an international food and beverage exhibition (Foodex Japan 2015), scheduled for March 3-6 in Chiba prefecture, Japan.

The Vietnamese business delegation left for Japan on March 1 with the aim of introducing the brandname of Vietnamese farm produce, food and beverage to consumers in Japan and from Asian countries.

Foodex Japan 2015 is expected to attract 2,800 pavilions from 83 regional countries and territories in Asia and around 75,000 visitors including trade partners.

Dao Van Ho, director of the Agricultural Trade Promotion Centre under the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), said local businesses aim to earn higher export turnover from the Japanese market, especially seafood and beverage. They also hope to exchange market information, learn experience and sign contracts with trade partners from Japan and other north-eastern Asian countries, Ho added.

In the near future, Vietnamese exporters will pay more concern to demanding markets, such as the US, European Union (EU), Russia, and India, he revealed.

Dong Thap crafting products revived

Traditional craft villages in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap have revived their practices through innovative and adaptive thinking.

After struggling with chronically unstable income from weaving bamboo traps only sold in the flooding season, households in Hoa Long commune in Lai Vung district decided to make changes to their products to suit a new market.

Locals began producing miniature fishing equipment, such as bamboo mice or fishing traps, to sell as decorative objects or souvenirs. Village resident Nguyen Huu Tho said since then his products have become a hit with local and regional tourists.

The miniatures are produced at lower costs, due to the fewer materials required for their construction, but are sold at the same price as the standard-sized products and reap a good profit, according to Tho.

“I will spend some money on whittling and polishing machines to improve the attractiveness of the products”, he said, adding that there is increasing demand in the market for these kinds of products.

Similar successes have also been seen in the shawl-scarf weaving village at Long Khanh A commune in Hong Ngu district.

Previously, village residents could barely eke out a living selling plain bandana scarves, used in daily life.

But the failure to compete against similar products mass-produced in factories forced most families to close their businesses and switch to other livelihoods.

Nguyen Thi Kim Chieu, a resident in the village, learned about consumer tastes at local trade fairs and changed her strategy, producing fashionable scarves in various sizes and colours for both men and women, packaged in appealing boxes.

Chieu said that producing scarves for tourists not only helps her family business thrive but also preserves the village’s traditional weaving craft.

Based on these innovative successes, Ngo Quang Tuyen, Deputy Director of Dong Thap’s Department of Culture, Tourism and Sports, said the department plans to offer assistance to villages to similarly modify and adapt their products to the modern market.

Workers return to industrial zones in Binh Duong

The majority of labourers have returned to work at industrial zones in the southern province of Binh Duong after the Tet holiday, according to Le  

Nho Luong, Chairman of the province’s Union of Workers at Industrial Zones.

He continued to say that as of February 27, over 90 percent of the workforce has returned to industrial zones in the province and over 94 percent of enterprises have resumed production.

Specifically, more than 95 percent of labourers at the Song Than 2 industrial zone have returned to work, as have 90 percent at the Song Than 1 industrial zone.

The Dong An industrial zone has 80 percent of its force, while Viet Huong has 85 percent. The remaining industrial zones in Ben Cat, Tan Uyen and other districts have between 80 percent and 90 percent.

Luong said the figures all represent a higher return level from the same period last year.

The entire workforce has resumed its tasks at some foreign companies, including Poh Huat Vietnam, Active Vietnam, and Alhonga Vietnam, Luong said.

However, the rate is relatively low at some labour-intensive companies; only 30 percent of workers at Tai Yuan returned, bottoming out at 20 percent of Koryo Vietnam’s workforce.

Luong cited workers travelling far to their hometowns for the holiday and requiring additional transit time to return to their employment as the main reason behind the low rates.

Binh Duong currently has 25 industrial zones.

Tay Ninh allocates G-bonds to impoverished border communes

The People’s Committee of the southern province of Tay Ninh has allocated 44 billion VND (2.1 million USD) worth of government bond capital to 20 impoverished border communes under the National Target Programme on New Rural Development.

Of the total capital, the province has allotted 28 billion VND (1.3 million USD) for 12 border communes in Tan Bien, Tan Chau, Chau Thanh, Ben Cau, and Trang Bang district worth 2 billion VND (95,000 USD) each.

Long Khanh commune in Ben Cau district has received 6 billion VND (285,700 USD) as a 2015 focus commune to build a new-style rural area.  

The remaining funding will be distributed to 7 other border communes.

In an attempt to maximise the use of the government bond- sourced capital, the provincial People’s Committee has requested authorised bodies to examine projects and speed up implementation of investment categories in accordance with regulations.

In 2014, six Tay Ninh communes were recognised as new rural communes.

The province targets 11 additional new rural development communes by the end of this year.

The National Target Programme on New Rural Development, launched in 2010, sets 19 criteria for new-style rural areas, covering infrastructure, production, living standards, income and culture, among others.

Vinafood 2 to export 300,000 tonnes of rice to Philippines

The Vietnam Southern Food Corporation (Vinafood 2) has won a contract of supplying 300,000 tonnes of 15-25 percent broken rice to the Philippines, reported the Sai Gon Giai phong daily.

Vinafood 2 beat strong rivals from Thailand to seal the contract.

In 2014, the corporation also won a bid to export 500,000 tonnes of rice to the country.

This year, it sought to further broaden its market to the US , Europe and regional countries for a year-on-year export growth of up to 12 percent.

In 2014, Vietnam exported over 6.5 million tonnes of rice, earning over 3 billion USD.-

Tourism sector serves 756,000 foreign visitors in February

Vietnam welcomed 756,000 foreign arrivals in February, up 7.9 percent from the previous month, announced the Vietnam National Administration of Tourism (VNAT) on February 27.

The figures pushed the total number of foreign visitors to Vietnam in the first two months of 2015 to 1.456 million, an annual drop of 10 percent.

In the first two months of 2015, as many as 1.172 million visitors flew to Vietnam while 13,904 reached the country by sea and 270,072 by road, according to the VNAT.

An increase was seen in the number of visitors from Finland from the same period last year, growing by 59.2 percent. Visitors from the Republic of Korea grew by 55.1 percent, New Zealand by 44.4 percent, Italy by 44 percent, and Spain by 31.7 percent.

However, a decline was recorded in the number of tourists from a number of markets, especially Hong Kong (China) and China, with 51 percent and 40.3 percent respective decreases.

The VNAT also reported 12.5 million domestic tourists in the period and total tourism earnings of 67.79 billion VND (3.38 million USD), up 6.6 percent annually.

Bac Lieu farmers savour higher salt prices

Salt fields are full to bursting in the southern province of Bac Lieu, where farmers are hoping for increased prices in the new year.

Bac Lieu produces 200,000 to 250,000 tonnes of salt per year, according to the provincial People's Committee. Dong Hai District has the largest area of salt fields at 2,300ha.

Dong Hai People's Committee Chairman Bui Minh Tuy said that in the first two months of the year, salt sold for VND14,000 (60 US cents) per kilogramme, an increase of VND4,000 (19 US cents) over the previous crop.

"Salt workers are happy, as they hope the price will continue to increase in the next few months," he said.

Ho Van Nien, a farmer in Long Dien Dong Commune, said higher prices would help him keep up his 8ha salt field.

Farmers who are members of the Danh Dien Co-operative in Dong Hai District's Dien Hai Commune have met a lot of difficulties in previous crops, due to abnormal weather and decreased prices, said Nguyen Quoc Dinh, chairman of the co-operative.

"Since the end of last year, salt prices have been stable, making thousands of local farmers happy," Dinh said.

Dang Van Hong, another farmer in Dien Hai Commune, said stable prices kept the atmosphere in the salt fields lively from early morning until later in the afternoon. Another good sign was help from authorities on applying new, effective manufacturing models, he said.

"The farmers called for all of their family members to help, and even hired more farmers to work on the field," Hong said.

Thai Binh makes big plans for baby potatoes

The northern province of Thai Binh will trademark its baby potatoes and expand its cultivation to 10,000 hectares by 2020.

Officials said at a recent workshop held in the province that the newly naturalised and introduced cash crop has greatly benefited farmers.

Bui Quang Thuong is one of the farmers who has cashed in on the new crop.

A member of the Trong Quan Agricultural Service Co-operative in Trong Quan Commune, Dong Hung District, Thuong said that the Thai Binh Agricultural Extension Centre had approached the co-operative in 2013 about cultivating the baby potato.

Members were provided with training on how to farm it in winter, after two consecutive rice harvests.

Thuong set aside two sao (720sq.m.) for cultivating the new crop. This proved so successful that he decided to increase the cultivation area to five sao last year.

"Last year, we earned VND70 million (US$3,300) selling the baby potato, which was 50 per cent higher than what we got from the same area for the ordinary one."

Apart from the higher income, the crop has the valuable advantage of being more environmentally-friendly.

Tran Minh Bang, chairman of the co-operative, said the crop requires organic fertiliser and farmers have been trained by agriculture extension officials to recycle rice straw using bio-chemicals.

Phan Huy Thong, director of the National Agricultural Extension Centre, said that at the current selling price of VND9,000-10,000 (42-47 cents) per kg, each mau (3,600 sq.m) can bring in VND100 million ($4,700) per crop. If production costs are deducted, the profit amounts to half the sum, which is still twice as much as two rice harvests combined.

Nguyen Thi Nga, deputy director of the Thai Binh Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said that the province intended to develop large-sized farms to cultivate baby potatoes as well as irrigation systems to serve them.

The province would provide incentives to private investors for producing baby potato nurseries since most of the seed potatoes being used in cultivation are being imported, she added.

ASEAN to remove more non-tariff barriers to boost economic integration

Trade ministers from 10 Southeast Asian countries pledged yesterday to break down further non-tariff barriers to boost intra-regional trade as they seek closer economic integration.

The trade ministers of member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations gathered for their annual retreat in Kota Bharu, the capital of Malaysia's northeastern Kelantan state, to chart the way forward for the grouping as it is poised to mark the formal establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community by end of this year.

Under the AEC blueprint, the grouping – with a combined population of over 625 million people – envisions an integrated market and production base with free flow of goods, services and investments, skilled labor and capital.

It aims to boost intra-ASEAN trade further. In 2013, trade between ASEAN members amounted to US$608.6 billion, accounting for 24.2 per cent of total trade in the region. It was a 32.9 per cent increase from the $458.1 billion recorded in 2008 when the AEC blueprint was first launched.

"The implementation of the AEC measures does not mean that ASEAN will become a single economic entity by January 1, 2016, rather it sends a strong signal that positive measures have been put in place towards a more liberalized and integrated economic region," the ministers said in a statement at the end of the one-day retreat.

At present, ASEAN members have substantially eliminated custom import duties and beginning 2015, 97.3 per cent of the products traded in the region are duty-free.

The focus for the year, they added, will be on removing further nontariff barriers that impede trade, such as simplification of custom procedures, harmonization of standards, further liberalisation of services and trade facilitation.

At a joint press conference, ASEAN Deputy Secretary-General for ASEAN Economic Community Lim Hong Hin illustrated some of the common problems like multiple testing required for a product by different countries in the region and labeling requirements such as the use of local language. Some of these have been resolved but there were still cases cropping up.

Malaysian International Trade and Industry Minister Mustapa Mohamed who chaired the retreat said they have identified 69 nontariff barriers and have resolved 45.

"We are committed to see more progress in the (removal) of nontariff barriers," he said.

Meanwhile, Mustapa said the negotiation for a trade pact between ASEAN and its six regional partners – Australia, China, India, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea – is on track for conclusion by the end of this year.

The eighth round of talks for the initiative known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership will be held in June in Kyoto, western Japan. Before that, some of the negotiating committees will hold a smaller "intersessional" meeting in April in Jakarta, Indonesia, he added.

RCEP is touted as the largest free trade deal as it will cover half the world's population and almost 30 per cent of the global economy.

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

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