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Cruise tourism to get popular in coming years; FTA talks may bring GI assistance; VN slaps extra duty on veggie oil imports; Stanchart: SBV to cut rates further; Banks announce reduction in executive pay
HCM City builds three more steel overpasses

The Urban Traffic Management Unit No. 1 will begin construction of three steel overpasses at three crowded intersections in HCMC this Saturday, and has erected fences around such construction sites to serve work.

The three steel overpasses include one at Cay Go intersection in District 11, one at Cong Hoa-Hoang Hoa Tham crossroad in Tan Binh District and one at Nguyen Tri Phuong-Ba Thang Hai-Ly Thai To intersection in District 10.

Under the design, the overpass at Nguyen Tri Phuong-Ba Thang Hai-Ly Thai To intersection will be built by assembling ten separate spans. After completion, the overpass will be nearly 400 meters long and 9.5 meters wide, allowing for only commuter buses and under nine-seat cars to run on it.

The overpass contractor Lidico has erected barricades hundreds of meters long on Ba Thang Hai Street and opened temporary roads on the sidewalks.

Similarly, HCMC Power Corporation is putting underground the high-voltage power line at Cay Go intersection. Meanwhile, street corners at the Cong Hoa-Hoang Hoa Tham crossroad are being expanded due to a huge traffic volume there.

Speaking to the Daily, Le Quyet Thang, director of the Urban Traffic Management Unit No. 1, said that the steel overpass at Lang Cha Ca intersection in Tan Binh District, which was the third overpass of this kind in HCMC, would also open to traffic this Saturday.

Cruise tourism to get popular in coming years

Cruise tourism will become an important trend in the coming years, heard a conference themed “Asian vision - adapt to the regional development trend” held by the Singapore Tourism Board in HCMC last Thursday.

Cruise tourism in Asian countries, including Vietnam, has been growing in recent years and will grow even stronger in the future, said speakers at the conference.

In 2011, the number of cruise tourists worldwide was about 1.7 million, but just a small percentage of them came to Asia. However, it is forecast that 25% of the world’s cruise tourists will come to this region in 2020.

Particularly, Vietnam is considered an attractive destination, with many World Heritage Sites, a coastline stretching thousands of kilometers and warm weather.

Tran Trong Kien, general director of Thien Minh Group, said the demand for travel by cruise ships and yachts in Vietnam was growing very well and would rise by 25% in the next five years. Thien Minh has invested in ten passenger ships at Halong Bay, but the firm is still worried this is not enough to meet the demand in the coming years.

Jeannie Lim, executive director of exhibitions & conferences and conventions & meetings at the Singapore Tourism Board, said Singapore had established a cruise center to promote the development of this important tourism segment. However, cruise tourism needs many destinations, so this is a chance for countries to join hands in developing services for tourists.

Regarding the use of the Internet to find tours and book services online, the speakers said this is an inevitable trend that needs investment now.

A survey done by Thien Minh Group shows that about 90% of tourists book services online or view photos and reviews of hotels and resorts before arriving there. In Vietnam, some 10% of bookings are made online, but it will increase to 20-30% in the next 2-3 years.

FTA talks may bring GI assistance

The EU is expected to grant GI (geographical indication) protection to more Vietnamese products in the near future if the nation puts this matter forward during Vietnam-EU free trade agreement (FTA) talks.

GI, or geographic indications protection scheme, links products with their regions of origin, verifying growing conditions and quality of product.

Phu Quoc fish sauce is the only product of Vietnam with official GI recognition in the EU.

Silva Rodriguez, head of Directorate-General for Agriculture and Rural Development under the European Commission, told the Daily on the sidelines of a seminar on Tuesday that there have been an increasing number of products keen to get GI protection in Europe. Many producers have worked with the department to ask for GI protection for their products.

However, brand building is not a strong point of Vietnamese farmers and the EU gives no assistance to GI registration. So, the quickest and cheapest way to win the protection is that Vietnam should mention this issue in the Vietnam-EU FTA negotiation.

Representatives of the two sides will have direct meetings during negotiations, so some groups of goods will have chances to obtain GI protection, Rodriguez said.

In fact, it is rather costly and time consuming for a group of producers to register GI protection for their products. They have to prepare documents and buy tickets to fly to Europe to work with the department.

Therefore, local farmers should propose relevant authorities in Vietnam to put this matter into FTA negotiations, Rodriguez stressed.

Currently, no Vietnamese products have been mentioned for GI protection during FTA talks between Vietnam and the EU.

“It depends on the Vietnamese side. If Vietnamese officials try to get GI protection for some products in Europe, we will certainly consider this matter,” he said.

VN slaps extra duty on veggie oil imports

Vegetable oils, including refined soybean, stearin and olein oils, imported into Vietnam from May 7 will be subject to an extra duty of 5% for less than 200 days since the self-defense measure takes effect.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade has decided to take this temporary measure against vegetable oil imports. It is adopted towards the products imported from all the countries under investigation, except those with negligible exports to Vietnam.

The measure comes after the ministry conducted an investigation into the aforesaid items from December 26. Preliminary results show that increased imports have caused serious damage to local vegetable oil producers.

Imports of the oil products under investigation were on the rise in the period from 2009 to 2012. In 2010 and 2011, the volume of imported vegetable oils grew 18.82% and 8.7% respectively, and in 2012, it surged 57.61%.

During this period, the market share of locally-made products declined from 37% to 22%, corresponding to an increase in the market share of imports from 33% to 51%. In 2012, the market share of vegetable oil imports nearly tripled that of domestic products.

The vegetable oil output at home fell significantly, down 30% in 2012, hitting the lowest level in 2009-2012. The revenue of local oil producers had grown steadily as of 2011, but last year their revenue unexpectedly dropped 32% over 2011.

As such, their profits also decreased. In 2012, profits of domestic producers dramatically slid 35% year-on-year, in contrast to the trend in 2009-2011.

The 15% reduction in prices of imported vegetable oils last year prompted domestic oil firms to cut prices by 9%, although the prices had been rising in the period from 2009 to 2011.

As a result, investment and employment in the industry declined markedly. The unsold volume increased by 33%, hitting the record high during 2009-2012, accounting for 5% of total output.

Currently, vegetable oils imported into Vietnam are levied a tariff of 22.5-37.5%, but those imported from ASEAN members enjoy a zero tax rate under the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA). The products imported from South Korea are also tax exempt under the agreement between ASEAN and South Korea.

According to the General Department of Customs, Vietnam imports the most vegetable oils from Malaysia and Indonesia.

Stanchart: SBV to cut rates further

Standard Chartered Vietnam Bank in its latest report predicted that the central bank would announce another deposit rate cut this quarter after the rate fell by seven percentage points from last March.

The bank said that this move is among solutions to create more favorable conditions for businesses. Recently, the central bank has reaffirmed use of flexible credit and interest rate solutions to reach this year’s credit growth target of 12%.

Low inflation prospect will allow the central bank to loosen monetary policies and another interest rate cut is likely to occur in the second quarter.

However, the bank expects that the deposit rate will decline by a 0.5 percentage point only as the rate has dropped strongly in recent times. Besides, inflation risks for the rest of the year will also obstruct a strong interest rate cut which may harm the credibility of the central bank, the report said.

Vietnam inflation pressures eased in March, with year-on-year CPI (consumer price index) correcting to 6.6% from 7% in February. However, food prices have started to edge up after bottoming last year, diverging from lower core inflation recently.

“We see rising food prices as a potential upside risk to inflation given the large weighting of food in the CPI basket at 39.93%, and see inflation trending higher in the second quarter,” the bank said.

Vung Tau City takes measures to improve tourism services

Authorities in the southern coastal city of Vung Tau have set up hotlines for tourists to tackle possible overcharging.

The move follows recent complaints by tourists to the municipal agencies after they were charged nearly VND17 million (USD811) for a meal for seven people.

According to their complaint, on March 26, a group of tourists including four Japanese and three Vietnamese people were taken by taxi to the Huong Viet restaurant in the city.

They ordered a meal including 6.1 kilos of small lobsters, 3.5 kilos of crabs, 1.7 kilos of cuttlefish and some oysters. They were terribly shocked when seeing the bill asking for up to VND16.6 million (USD792.55).

Being greatly distressed, the tourists lodged a complaint to denounce the restaurant to the city’s authorities.

Crowded beach in Vung Tau City

Apart from being overcharged, they claimed that the taxi driver acted as a mediator for the restaurant and staff at the restaurants added some dishes without any knowledge from the guests in advance.

A joint working group of the city’s tourism and service sectors worked with Nguyen Nhu Khanh, owner of the restaurant and officials from the Petro taxi firm. They all admitted their wrongdoings and Khanh returned the guests over VND4.8 million (USD229.17).

The restaurant was fined VND12.5 million (USD596.8) and had their business licence temporarily revoked for failing to declare any bills to demonstrate the origins of the food they served those guests.

Overcharging is regarded as a big issue in Vung Tau City.

In order to improve the situation, municipal authorities have established eight hotlines at several places citywide.

Tourists are encouraged to make complaints to 0989.217.417 for municipal interdisciplinary inspection group, or 0913.947.870 for police head in Thang Tam Ward, or 0918. 581.755 for chairman of Thang Tam ward People’s Committee, or 0643.852.264 for Thang Tam ward police.

They can also call at 0913.758.658 for police head in Ward 2 or 0643.524.088 for police in Ward 2, or 0918.010.963 for chairman of Ward 2 People’s Committee, or 0918.221.661 for vice chairman of People’s Committee of the same ward.

Banks announce reduction in executive pay

Many banks and listed companies have announced plans to cut bonuses and salary for top executives this year if they fail to reach their business targets.

Members of boards of directors and supervisory committees would be required to reach yearly profit goals in order to receive their highest pay.

A number of gloomy business forecasts prompted banks to lower their yearly targets. LienVietPost Bank said that they would decrease pay for board members by VND5 billion (238,000), while VietinBank announced that their pay structure would be performance-based. In a similar decision, Techcombank will also reduce payment to members of the boards of directors and supervision board.

SHB chair, Do Quang Hien, asked for a 10% reduction in pay for members of the board of directors and a 5% reduction for regular staff.

Dr. Nguyen Minh Phong said that the salary cuts were suitable for the current economic climate.

“In many foreign countries, when banks and other large enterprises fail to meet their targets, the executives face penalties in the way of salary cuts. But in the state-owned enterprise sector in this country a lot of top executives continue to collect large pay-outs even though the business is taking large losses," said, Phong.

Diageo supports Vietnamese women through training

Diageo Vietnam on Wednesday announced that it will pour tens of billions of Vietnam dong in five years to help  Vietnamese women in need raise their voices in the society and contribute to the long-term goal of gender equality.

Accordingly, the company will invest US$756,000 or VND16 billion between now and 2017 to support Vietnamese women through training and skills development.

This is a part of a five-year campaign of Diageo in Asia Pacific named “Plan W – empowering women through training,” committing US$10 million to empower two million women in 17 countries in the region by 2017.

Plan W aims to reach women of all socio-economic profiles through training and skills development. Empowerment under Diageo’s notion means a woman’s right to have choices, opportunities and access to resources – all of which improve her sense of self worth and ability to influence society and the economy.

Plan W will take a tailored approach for each country in order to address the specific needs of women in each market. In Vietnam, the campaign is focused on three pillars at the early stage including supporting communities by partnering with local NGOs to deliver skills-based training and seed funding to marginalized women to start their own businesses.

On this occasion, Diageo unveiled a new partnership with the Center for Social Initiatives Promotion (CSIP), which plays a leading role in supporting the emerging social entrepreneurship sector in Vietnam and enables the economic empowerment of women through social enterprises.

At the function, Pham Kieu Oanh, CSIP’s director, said that empowering women is the best way for progress to a more equal society by giving women access to resources to help them achieve success for the benefit of their children, their families and society as a whole.

Stephane Gripon, general manager of Diageo Vietnam, said at the event that the campaign will also help Diageo Vietnam make a difference in offering its female staff choices and opportunities to maximize their chance of success as well as promote them to positions of influence in his company. Diageo is looking at a long-term method to help the industry and community, with the bartender training program and a bunch of corporate social responsibility (CSR) activities.

Diageo will continue its efforts on skills training to women in the hospitality industry to improve their knowledge and job prospects. Diageo piloted a bartender skills program in partnership with three hospitality vocational schools including Nguyen Truong To, Khoi Viet and Saigontourist for the benefit of 1,000 bartenders, contributing to the regional target of training 20,000 bartenders across Asia.

“With Plan W, we pin high hopes on creating many impactful changes to our industry in which women account for 72% of employees as well as the communities where we operate,” he said.

Customs, tax agencies urged to fulfill State budget revenue

The Ministry of Finance has urged the General Department of Customs and the General Taxation Department to focus on collecting financial obligations payable for the State budget to avoid budget deficit caused by overspending in the first months of the year.

The ministry has asked the two departments to collect State budget duties set for the second quarter in a sufficient and timely manner. Besides, the departments are required to remind enterprises to pay in schedule corporate income taxes whose payments were extended earlier.

The tax and customs agencies are told to enhance State budget revenue collection to prevent revenue losses. They therefore need to take necessary measures to recover big debts in the nation’s major localities as well as collecting all fines and obligations payable resulting from inspections by State authorities.

For entities that are subject to value-added tax (VAT) and corporate income tax payment exemption, reduction and extension in line with already-issued decisions, the authorities must review to establish the right beneficiaries.

At the same time, the taxman must strictly check and supervise tax declarations and payments of enterprises, organizations and individuals. Those entities that claim VAT refunds and those posting losses for three consecutive months should be closely monitored.

The State budget revenue reached VND167.71 trillion in the first quarter, representing 20.6% of the target but declining 2.6% against the same period last year.

Domestic revenue posted VND114.04 trillion, accounting for 20.9% of the year’s plan and nearly equivalent to the year-ago period’s figure. Import and export tax sums, however, contributed only VND41.15 trillion to State budget, or 17.3% of the plan.

HCM City’s manufacturing sector rebounds

The manufacturing sector in HCMC has now seen the uptrend in inventory contained and imports of machines, equipment and materials rising, together with an increase in employment.

In the year to date, the city has exported US$9.2 billion worth of products, up 15.6% year-on-year. Meanwhile, imports reached US$8.04 billion, up 19.5%, said Huynh Khanh Hiep, deputy director of the HCMC Department of Industry and Trade, at a conference for review of the January-April socioeconomic situation in the city.

He remarked manufacturing conditions were improving since imports were mainly machines, equipment and materials for domestic production. Textile-garment makers have sufficient orders to fulfill until the end of the third quarter.

The industrial inventory index has risen 7.3% this month, while it picked up 10.1% in March, pointing to a slower pace of inventory growth and a recovery in the manufacturing sector in HCMC.

Enterprises operating in the city-based export processing zones and industrial parks witness a prospering situation, said Nguyen Tan Dinh, deputy head of the HCMC Export Processing Zones and Industrial Parks Authority (Hepza). Foreign-invested enterprises maintain production better than domestic firms, he told the Daily on the sidelines of the conference.

As of April 22, enterprises in export processing zones and industrial parks had exported US$1.25 billion worth of goods, a growth of 12% on-year.

However, those exporting seafood to Europe and Japan are facing multiple problems, such as falling prices and surging input costs, leading to shrinking profits. Still, they are trying to maintain operations to secure jobs for their employees, said Dinh.

At a recent meeting between Hepza and HCMC Power Corporation, the State utility company vowed to provide sufficient electricity for production during the dry season, he informed.

To Duy Lam, director of the central bank’s branch in HCMC, said the city-based banks had lent over VND102 trillion to the five preferred sectors, namely agriculture, export, small and medium-sized enterprises, supporting industries and high technology. The lending rate is 9-11% per annum.

Particularly, small and medium-sized enterprises so far have been granted more than VND60.7 trillion.

Speaking at the conference, Nguyen Thi Hong, vice chairwoman of HCMC, said the April consumer price index (CPI) in the city dipped 0.33% against March, but grew 2.44% year-on-year. The commodity groups recording price declines are catering services, housing, gas and building materials, post and telecommunications.

She said the volume of goods consumed in the first four months sharply increased over the same period last year. The total retail sale of goods and services so far has reached some VND190 trillion, up 10.6% year-on-year.

Shaken confidence wrecks economic prospects

Shrinking demand and shaken confidence may continue to dim Vietnam’s economic prospects, said experts at a workshop held in Hanoi on Wednesday.

Economist Ngo Tri Long said market confidence had been depleted, while weakened demand and confidence hit the economy with a heavy volume of unsold products.

“Consumers are not willing to spend and investors do not pour money into production, proving that their confidence is being undermined,” Long said.

“The confidence crisis in the property market is the most alarming,” he stressed at the workshop themed “Vietnam economy versus challenges” organized by the Institute of Economics and Finance under the Academy of Finance.

Nguyen Ngoc Tuyen, director of the Institute of Economics and Finance, said inventory holdings stood at 69-93% of the total production values in the period from July 2012 to February 2013. He informed the safe ratio is 65%.

The industries with the highest inventory growths are motorized vehicles (147.3%), furniture (144.9%), chemicals (142%) and food (102.3%), he said.

Production significantly slows down, reflected in an increase of only 4.9% in the index of industrial production in the first quarter, much lower than the levels in previous years.

Tuyen said: “The vast volume of unsold products urges enterprises to cut back on production, and thus trade is damaged and State budget suffers losses… the vicious circle in the economy is very distressful.”

Long remarked all the problems that had arisen since 2008 gathered in 2013.

Bad debt, inventory and stagnation remain the major bottlenecks. In addition, inflation keeps haunting the economy even though demand is shrinking, he said.

However, the suggestions made at the workshop do not represent any breakthrough.

Long said: “I think it’s time Vietnam switch from aggregate demand stabilization policy to supply-side policy to achieve the socioeconomic targets for 2013 and the following years.”

Supply-side policy works on three foundations, he said, namely tax and fee cuts to stimulate investment and consumption, market improvement for supply and demand to meet each other, and a monetary policy that is not too tight and not too loose.

“Switching to supply-side policy will stimulate economic growth in a long term and restrain inflation at a low level,” he stated.

Experts deemed the current economic situation as a consequence of the hot growth. By the end of 2012, State-owned enterprises had incurred a total debt of VND1,300 trillion and had an average debt-to-equity ratio of 1.82.

As per the latest report by the central bank, the bad debt ratio of the banking system is 8.6% and property-related debts total over VND1,000 trillion, or nearly 50% of the nation’s GDP.

Local firms find online trading cost-effective

Many local companies have increased their sales, received more orders and approached more customers when utilizing the online trading model as an effective tool in the era of digital technology.

Some said the online trading model is more cost-effective than the traditional method.

Nguyen Tuan Quynh, board member of Phu Nhuan Jewelry JSC (PNJ), said sales of online orders of PNJ had stayed at only VND100 million a day before the firm re-designed its website to make it friendlier to online shoppers. At present, PNJ obtains an average of VND600 million a day from online orders.

With the traditional business model, to achieve a daily sales of VND600 million, PNJ must invest in an outlet with around 12 staff members, exclusive of space rent and decoration expenses.

Meanwhile, the company just needs two employees when operating the website to trade in products in the Internet. What the company needs now is an information technology expert tasked with updating information relating to gold, images and information on products and promotion onto the website, and another staff in charge of receiving orders, confirming payment by buyers and contacting the delivery section.

Similarly, The Gioi Di Dong JSC also successfully utilized good points of e-commerce. Pham Van Trong, chief information officer of the cell-phone store chain operator The Gioi Di Dong, said his enterprise has focused on efforts on the online selling channel. The company’s website now welcomes up to 300,000 shoppers a day.

After studying information on features and prices of products of The Gioi Di Dong, consumers will call the firm to place orders, with an average of 1,000 orders recorded after 3,000 calls.

“The benefit of online trading activities is undeniable. What is important is that local entities need to deploy a suitable online trading plan in line with their specific targets and products,” Trong said.

ABBank’s foreign room filled up

An Binh Commercial Bank (ABBank) held a ceremony in Hanoi City on Tuesday to announce that its foreign room has been filled by two investors International Finance Corporation (IFC) and Malaysia-based Maybank.

After converting bonds issued for IFC and Maybank in 2010 into common shares last Thursday, the bank’s foreign room, which is capped at 30% of its charter capital, has been full.

IFC now keeps a 10% stake in the local lender while Maybank holds a 20% stake. The two investors have helped the bank spur its charter capital from VND4.2 trillion to nearly VND4.8 trillion.

IFC and Maybank have become major shareholders of ABBank besides Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) and Hanoi General Import and Export Joint Stock Company (Geleximco).

Earlier, IFC since 2009 has given supports to ABBank to build up products and develop policies for small and medium-sized enterprises, trade finance and improve management capability. In the coming time, IFC will send its staff to join the board of directors of ABBank and continue assistance for day-to-day operations of the lender.

Maybank has also poured additional capital to maintain a 20% stake in the bank because IFC’s participation should have sharply reduced Maybank’s ownership. Maybank staff will also join the board of directors, risk management and human resources departments of ABBank.

BIDV, MU introduce affinity card

Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV) on Wednesday signed an agreement with Manchester United (MU) Football Club to launch BIDV-Manchester United affinity debit card.

Speaking at the signing ceremony in Hanoi on Wednesday, BIDV general director Phan Duc Tu said that this product will offer privileges to MU fans and other customers in Vietnam in using BIDV banking services.

BIDV will also hold a ceremony to introduce the debit card in HCMC today, targeting fans of the football club. Local fans will have opportunities to exchange with goal keeper Peter Schmeichel and join lucky draws at the event.

One day earlier, VietinBank and Chelsea Football Club also launched co-branded cards for Chelsea fans in Vietnam. Cardholders are entitled to benefits and privileges from Chelsea as well as the football club’s global partners.

InterContinental Danang on Conde Nast Traveller front page

The InterContinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort is the first Vietnamese resort/hotel to be featured on the front page of the world-famous Conde Nast Traveller.

The plush resort which officially opens its doors on June 1 is one of the 16 properties from Asia to be featured on the Hot List this year in the most prestigious global travel magazine’s U.K. and U.S. editions.

Evangeline Imperial, Executive Director of Sales & Marketing said: “It is our honor to be chosen as one of the top new hotels and Resorts around the world chosen by the prestigious Conde Nast Traveler’s Hot List and to be on cover of the USA Edition.

“Our owners and Bill Bensley has invested time and committed so much effort to the resort and this is a testament to their vision in creating a resort that celebrate Vietnamese
culture and our architecture, culinary experiences, and activities.

“Hopefully with this award we can further showcase our city - Danang and our country Vietnam.”

The magazine annually chooses the best new hotels around the world and this year the flagship of IHG’s resort in Vietnam is among 154 hotels honored. The delectable An Lam Saigon River Private Residence in HCMC and gorgeous Banyan Tree in Lang Co near Danang also make the list from the 16 Asian countries.

Vietnam intellectual property records announced

Ten Vietnamese records in the field of intellectual property were announced at a ceremony in Ho Chi Minh City on April 26, on the occasion of the World Intellectual Day 2013.

The records aim to honour intellectual property values and promote the public awareness of intellectual property rights.

Among the records are the organisation with the most copyright certificates – the MTV Vietnam Education Publishing House Ltd and the person having the most copyright certificates, Bui Van Ngo.

In addition, Huynh Cong Nhan is recognised as the first Vietnamese to register an international patent under the Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) system and Venerable Thich Hue Dang is the first monk in the country to receive a patent.

The poem “O hai dau noi nho” (At two ends of nostalgia) by journalist Tran Dinh Chinh sets the record in copyright transfer at 300 million VND.-

Vietnam, Laos trade to hit 2 bln USD in 2015

Vietnam and Laos expect to increase two-way trade turnover to two billion USD in 2015 and five billion USD in 2020.

According to Tran Bao Giam, Trade Counsellor at the Vietnamese Embassy in Laos, Vietnam’s products currently account for 16.4 percent of Laos’ imports, mostly steel and iron, petrol, vehicles, machines and spare parts, coal and textiles.

Giam said that the biggest difficulties Vietnamese enterprises face entering the market is the small size of the Lao economy, poor transport infrastructure and an incomplete legal and policy foundation.

In addition, Vietnamese companies must do everything by themselves, from purchasing goods to transporting, delivering and marketing due to the lack of supporting services and weak transport connections.

In order to promote exports to Laos, Vietnamese businesses should diversify the range of products, and participate more in bidding for projects in the fields of infrastructure construction, industry, mining, agriculture-forestry and social development.

Moreover, businesses should boost links with Lao partners, particularly Vietnamese businesspeople in the country, and customise product packaging and labelling to suit Lao consumers’ taste.



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