National Australia Bank opens first representative office in Vietnam 

National Australia Bank today announced the opening of its new representative office in Vietnam as part of the bank’s ongoing investment in its capabilities throughout Asia.

The opening of the new representative office in Vietnam is an important milestone for National Australia Bank, and illustrates its ongoing commitment to expanding the presence in Asia to support customers.

Flows of trade, people and capital between Asia, Australia and New Zealand have grown exponentially over recent years, at around 15 per cent per annum, and are showing no signs of abating. This presents huge opportunities for Australian and New Zealand business in Asia.

“As Australia’s leading business bank we are committed to helping our customers respond to the opportunities on offer in Asia, and supporting them as they expand into new markets,” said Daryl Johnson, Asia Chief Executive Officer of National Australia Bank.

Mr Johnson also said that the Hanoi representative office is an important part of National Australia Bank’s strategic approach to support business customers in the Asian region. “As Australia’s leading business bank, we have strong expertise in the infrastructure, energy and utilities and agribusiness sectors which will be key areas of focus in Vietnam. Our new representative office is a great first step to support our customers with commerce, trade and investment links to Vietnam.”

National Australia Bank Group is a financial services organisation with over 12,400,000 customers and 42,000 people, operating more than 1,800 stores and Service Centres globally. Its major financial services franchises in Australia are complemented by businesses in New Zealand, Asia, the United Kingdom and the United States. 

New Zealand helps Tien Giang develop agriculture

The New Zealand Government has provided US$4 million in aid to help the southern province of Tien Giang give effect to a project on new agricultural initiatives in the 2013-2018 period.

New Zealand Ambassador to Vietnam Haike Manning emphasized the New Zealand Aid Programme has supported the Vietnam agricultural sector over the years.

The project is expected to make new breakthroughs in which both nations will cooperate in using New Zealand’s leading agricultural expertise to produce new fruits varieties, generating higher incomes for Vietnamese farmers.

It will also apply modernised technologies to create a new variety of dragon fruits, build modern production, and post-harvest models and improve sales and marketing skills to increase income for farmers and small and medium-sized enterprises.

Direct air route promised to boost Vietnam-Singapore relations

The inauguration of a direct Singapore-Phu Quoc air route provides the opportunity for further development of the economic possibilities between Vietnam and Singapore, particularly offering up opportunities to boost the region’s image as a top family holiday destination.

At a seminar in Singapore on September 30, Vice Secretary of the Kien Giang provincial Party Committee Nguyen Thanh Nghi highlighted the island's favourable environment, virgin forests, white sandy beaches and wide variety of wildlife, which make it an ideal holiday location.

Nguyen Tien Nam, head of Vietnam Airlines’ branch in Singapore said the move opens up new opportunities for both Singaporean and Vietnamese investors. Nam affirmed Vietnam Airlines has always considered Singapore an important market.

That is why, the airline decided to open the air route on November 2 with direct flights on every Thursday and Sunday, Nam said.

Nam stressed the event is expected to help Vietnam Airlines operate 37 flights per week between Singapore and Vietnam, thus affirming the airlines’ strong commitment to the development of the aviation sector and socio-economic development of the two nations.

Vietnam Ambassador to Singapore Tran Hai Hau expressed hope that after the opening of the fourth direct route connecting to Singapore to other Vietnamese localities, new air routes will be launched over the next few years to further deepen Singapore-Vietnam relations.

Hau emphasized in 2013, leaders of both nations decided to elevate bilateral ties to a strategic partnership while economic and trade ties reaped impressive results. Singapore became the third largest trade partner of Vietnam with investment of over US$30 billion, while two-way trade turnover reached over US$15 billion last year, Hau said.

In the first seven months of the year, an estimated 120,000 Singapore visitors arrived in Vietnam while nearly 200,000 Vietnamese citizens visited Singapore, up 5.5% and 14% respectively against the corresponding period last year.

Laos, Vietnam bolster finance and banking cooperation

The Danang Branch of the Vietnam Bank for Social Policies (VBSP) and the Savannakhet Branch of the Policy Bank of Laos (NBB) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) in central Danang city on September 30.

They agreed to share experience and support each other in exchanging professional skills, and building cooperation documents.

In 2014-2015 period, the two sides boosted cooperation in realizing the Core Banking programme and share expertise in human resource training and debt management.

VBSP Branch Director Tran Thi Phuong Lan confirmed the bank is committed to strengthening cooperation with its counterpart in Laos, which helps to improve banking services to its customers.

SSI cited “Best Local Brokerage”

Saigon Securities Inc (SSI) was named the "Best Local Brokerage in Vietnam" at the Asiamoney Brokers Poll 2014, the company announced on September 30.

The 25th annual award ceremony was hosted by Asiamoney Magazine-a prestigious Asia-Pacific economic and financial magazine and part of the Euromoney Institutional Investor PLC Group.

This is the second consecutive time, SSI has been been the recipient of the award.

Previously SSI had been selected the Best Investment Bank 2014 and the Best Raising Capital Investors 2014 by Finance Asia, the most prestigious banking and finance magazine in Asia.

Binh Dinh approves refinery plan

The feasibility study of the Victory petrochemical and oil refinery project has been approved, a top official of the coastal province of Binh Dinh's People's Committee announced yesterday.

According to Ho Quoc Dung, Standing Vice-Chairman of the province's People's Committee, the study was approved after 16 members of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Assessment Council voted on the issue on September 30 in Ha Noi.

"This is an important basis for the concerned ministries and sectors for submitting the project proposal to the Prime Minister for approval," Dung said.

The US$22-billion Victory project, to be located in Binh Dinh's Nhon Hoi Economic Zone, is a joint proposal by the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) and its strategic partner, the Saudi Arabian oil company Saudi Aramco.

Dung said that the participation of a large company such as Saudi Aramco improved the feasibility of the project because it can help ensure crude oil resources for the refinery complex.

"The project will help socio-economic development and increase the gross domestic product (GDP) of Binh Dinh and of the nation as well," Dung said.

The construction of the project and its production is scheduled to start in 2016 and 2021 respectively.

North to benefit from urban development

The Ministry of Construction and the World Bank (WB) on Wednesday launched a results-based national urban development programme in the northern mountainous region.

The seven-year (2015-21) programme will be funded by a US$250 million loan from the WB's International Development Association.

The project seeks to upgrade urban infrastructure, protect the environment, and improve local residents' livelihoods so as to ensure sustainable socio-economic development in the cities and townships of the northern mountainous provinces of Bac Kan, Cao Bang, Dien Bien, Hoa Binh, Thai Nguyen, Tuyen Quang, and Yen Bai.

The programme will strengthen local authorities' capacity for urban planning and management while helping ministries develop policy frameworks on key issues.

Construction Minister Trinh Dinh Dung said investment was needed not only in big cities, but also smaller ones, particularly in disadvantaged areas like the northern mountainous region.

He said the development of infrastructure in mountainous urban areas would release traffic, healthcare and education pressures on central cities, thus creating a more harmonious urban network in the country.

Viet Nam, Israel trade set to increase

Viet Nam and Israel aim to increase bilateral trade to US$2 billion by 2016, officials said at the first Intergovernmental Committee meeting of the two countries last Tuesday.

At the meeting, Vietnamese representatives said their country was encouraging Israeli companies to invest in industries where Israel has great potential, including agriculture, high technology, information technology and telecommunications.

The two sides also agreed to map out suitable policies early to create favourable conditions for their respective business communities to improve co-operation in the production and use of recycled power.

Israeli representatives also said their country would continue co-operating with Viet Nam in the implementation of the financial protocol.

At the meeting, Viet Nam also suggested that Israel make early comments on the draft of the co-operation agreement on customs between the two countries.

Trade between Viet Nam and Israel has steadily increased in past years. Figures from the General Department of Customs show that bilateral trade between the two countries reached $605.24 million last year, a 38.15-per cent year-on-year increase. Of these, an estimated $400.61 million came from Vietnamese exports.

Mobile phones and components were Viet Nam's key export to Israel, reaching $200 million last year, a 107-per cent year-on-year increase.

The value of Vietnamese seafood, coffee, cashew nuts, footwear and textiles and garments exports to Israel likewise increased significantly last year.

Israel ranked 62nd among 101 countries and territories investing in Viet Nam last year, with 16 projects worth $20.65 million.

Economy struggles to cope with bad debt, slow growth

The Vietnamese economy is facing three major challenges: low credit growth, slow pace of settlement of non-performing loans and sluggish business and production.

The Government news portal quoted Cao Viet Sinh, former planning and investment deputy minister, as saying that credit growth rose steadily from 3.15 per cent in July to 4.08 percent in August and 6.62 per cent in September 2014, but capital had not been effectively pumped into the economy. "As a result, it is hard to expect strong growth," Sinh added.

Meanwhile, banks' non-performing loans have increased mainly because of low credit growth and slow settlement of bad debts.

For instance, the ratio rose from 3.61 per cent at the end of 2013 to 4.07 percent last May and 4.17 percent in June.

So far this year, the Vietnam Asset Management Company (VAMC) purchased around VND19.6 trillion (US$933 million) in bad debts but has a purchase target of VND70 trillion to VND100 trillion for 2014 alone.

Commenting on the business community, the former deputy minister expressed concern over the number of dissolved and suspended enterprises, which went up by 13.8 per cent year-on-year to 48,330.

Little improvement was likewise seen in the number of newly-established businesses and registered capital volume, Sinh said.

To overcome these challenges, the Government has ordered lower units to seek solutions to facilitate production and business while stepping up implementation of the master plan for economic restructuring.

The General Statistics Office (GSO) has reported that the economy expanded by 5.62 per cent in the first nine months of 2014. The figure, Sinh noted, went beyond expectations.

Specifically, the GDP climbed from 5.09 per cent in the first quarter to 5.42 per cent in the second quarter and 6.19 per cent in the third quarter, said the statistics agency.

The index of industrial production also increased from 5.3 per cent in the first quarter to 6.9 per cent in the second quarter and 7.7 per cent in the third quarter.

Other positive signals include a 3.2-per cent year-on-year increase in foreign direct investment inflow to $8.9 billion and a 10-per cent year-on-year increase in official development assistance to $4.1 billion.

SCPE invests in agro-firm

Standard Chartered Private Equity (SCPE) yesterday announced the acquisition of a minority stake in An Giang Plant Protection Joint Stock Company (AGPPS), a market leader in Viet Nam's agricultural sector.

SCPE, Standard Chartered Bank's investment arm, is infusing US$90 million in AGPPS, the largest distributor of plant protection chemicals and rice seeds in Viet Nam, as well as an emerging aggregator and processor of rice.

SCPE will provide strategic inputs into the agribusiness company's business planning and support the management in its development plans. SCPE reportedly invests in companies in Asia, Africa and the Middle East and is backed by the best class management teams in private equity and mezzanine structures.

This is the second investment in Viet Nam for SCPE, which announced its first investment, in Golden Gate Group, two weeks ago. SCPE officials said the company was committed to investing in successful businesses across sectors and was actively seeking opportunities across the ASEAN region.

The latest investment underscores Standard Chartered Bank's long-term commitment to Viet Nam as it celebrates the 110th anniversary of the opening of its first branch in the country, said Nirukt Sapru, chief executive officer of Standard Chartered Bank in Viet Nam.

"We are deeply committed to supporting our clients in Viet Nam. I believe that our broad international network, coupled with our full suite of innovative, customised products and services, will support AGPPS in achieving its growth aspirations. This investment is a reaffirmation of our long-term commitment to Viet Nam, where we have been since 1904, and we are investing more resources to capture the business opportunities available and drive investment, trade and the creation of wealth in Viet Nam," added Sapru.

Tien Giang's export turnover surges

The Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang posted US$1.056 billion in export turnover in the first nine months of 2014, a record 39.1 per cent increase year on year.

Rice, the province's major commodity, maintained its steady growth with more than 155,000 tonnes sold overseas during the period. Aquatic products, clothing and shoe exports also soared.

Measures taken to expand export markets and manage export activities are said to be responsible for the rising figures, according to the provincial Industry and Trade Department.

Hi-tech farm fair to open in HCM City

The Investment and Trade Promotion Centre of HCM City will hold its third hi-tech agriculture and food industry fair, Hi-Tech Agro 2014, in HCM City's Le Van Tam Park from October 22 to 26.

The fair is expected to attract more than 200 local and foreign exhibitors. It will feature 350 booths displaying farm produce, processed food, seedlings, agricultural appliances and machines, plant protection products, fertilisers, post-harvest technologies, ornamental creatures and hi-tech agricultural models.

A meeting to link farmers with distributors such as Aeon, Metro, Big C and Co.opmart supermarkets, Satrafood and wholesale markets in the city will be held on the sidelines of the fair, said Nguyen Tuan, the centre's deputy director.

Conference seeks to establish monitoring system for public investment

The Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) held a conference on October 1 with a focus on the development of a strategy to supervise and evaluate public investment in the 2015-2020 period.

Participants discussed the status quo of public investment and future trends, and shared experience and best practices in this field.

According to MPI Deputy Minister Nguyen Chi Dung, learning from other countries will help Vietnam set up an effective and transparent monitoring and evaluation system for public investment.

He expressed his belief that Vietnam would build a system that meets international standards and contributes to national economic development, with the support of development partners.

Meanwhile, Nadia Krivetz from the Australian Embassy in Vietnam, explained that the Law on Public Investment created an efficient legal framework and an overall mechanism on pre- and post-investment supervision.

She also noted that the Australian Government supported Vietnam in the establishment of a monitoring and evaluation system for official development assistance over the last few years.

Nguyen Xuan Tu, head of the MPI’s Department of Investment and Appraisal, affirmed that public investment is significant for Vietnam’s economy, accounting for 40 percent of the country’s total social investments. As much as 18-20 percent of investments is ODA, he said.

However, he pointed out that public investment in Vietnam remained ineffective and unsustainable. In 2013, only 66.75 percent of public-invested projects, or 23,890 projects, were obliged to submit supervision reports due to the limited capacity of management bodies.

He proposed a strategic roadmap and action plan be developed for the 2015-2020 period, focussing on applying supervision and evaluation tools and assessing the progress of the implementation of the Law on Public Investment.

Participants agreed on targets for the implementation of a framework strategy for the 2015-2020 period, with supervision and evaluation tools divided into the three groups of investors, governing bodies and State management agencies.

They also highlighted the importance of appropriate frame conditions for monitoring and appraising public investment.

Jetstar Pacific launches Hanoi-Vinh route

The low-cost carrier Jetstar Pacific on October 1 announced its new round-trip service between Hanoi and Vinh city, central Nghe An province, with a flight a day.

The daily flight using A320 Airbus departs from Vinh at 9:25 while the return one leaves Hanoi at 10:45.

Ticket for the new route is on sale from October 2 at its website and ticket offices across the country.

To promote the new route, the carrier also offers a special discount programme for tickets purchased between 12:00 to 23:59 on October 2. A two-way ticket is sold at 450,000 VND (21.4 USD) per person for flights scheduled from October 27 to December 11.

Additionally, the carrier also launches its five-day hot ticket campaign starting from 12:00 of October 2 to the end of October 6, offering a number of tickets priced between 290,000-399,000 VND (13.8-19 USD) on routes between Hanoi and Vinh, and between Ho Chi Minh City and Nha Trang, Buon Ma Thuot, Phu Quoc, Bangkok and Singapore.

Dong Nai: FDI firm receives Labour Medal

Taekwang Vina Industrial Joint Stock Company, a business from the Republic of Korea operating in southern Dong Nai province, was awarded the third class Labour Medal for its 20-year contribution to Vietnam’s development.

The ceremony on September 30 saw the participation of Oh Jae Hack, the Korean General Consul in HCM City, and local authorities.

Addressing the event, Chairman of the provincial People’s Committee, Dinh Quoc Thai, said Taekwang Vina JSC had made substantial contributions to the province’s economic growth and created thousands of jobs for local residents.

Thai expressed his hope that the business would be inspired by the State’s honourable medal to increase its contributions to Vietnam’s economy even further.

Taekwang Vina Industrial JSC, which produces sport shoes for export, employs more than 24,000 workers.

In 2013, revenue totalled 400 million USD, a significant increase compared to the previous five years.

The company fulfilled its obligations to Vietnam and actively joined local social and charitable efforts, such as constructing social housing, providing literacy training for worker and establishing low-price supermarkets. On the occasion, the company donated 3 tonnes of rice to local elderly residents and orphans.

Southern market shows green shoots of recovery

After a long hibernation, the real estate market seems to be on the recovery with a group of southern real estate firms returning to business with numerous projects and product launches.

Danh Khoi A Chau Real Estate JSC, the exclusive sale agent of Ho Chi Minh City-based Huynh Thong Production Trading Service Limited, recently announced property sales in their Tan Tao Garden project in the city’s Binh Chanh district.

 The 12.3 ha project including 662 residential land plots varying from 90 to 110 square metres has nearly completed its infrastructure. Prices ranges from VND8.5 million ($400) per square metre, with payment extended over a 12-month period.

Likewise, HTReal recently offered sales of land plots in the Sun City Phu Loi project in Ho Chi Minh City’s District 8.

The project belongs to the grand 10.5ha Phu Loi complex consisted of three terraced house blocks and two blocks of two-floor villas. Price start from VND11.9 million ($560) per square metre (VAT included), and customers are allowed to pay via a flexible instalment scheme.

A source from Hung Thinh Real Estate Company said that within a week of going on sale 200 units at the 12-View apartment project in District 12 had found owners.

At Hung Ngan Garden project, 500 units had been sold after two selling rounds.

Property developer Novaland also proclaimed that since the beginning of the year, it has achieved striking sales of over 2,100 housing units in its various projects.

The neighbouring province of Binh Duong, after a period seeing stalled transactions, has also posted robust transactions.

According to Kim Oanh Real Estate Company all 400 housing plots of its Mall City project (Di An district) had been reserved just a week after going on sale.

Hoang Anh Tuan, general director of Tac Dat Tac Vang Corporation revealed that three weeks after sales began for the IJC@VSIP luxury commercial urban project in Binh Duong New City, 200 clients had put down deposits.

By end of this month, the company plans to host a meeting to present investment opportunities in Binh Duong and begin sales at the project.

According to Nguyen Hoang Minh, deputy director of State Bank of Vietnam’s Ho Chi Minh City branch, mortgages and lending for property in the city’s banks had surpassed VND123 trillion ($5.8 billion) against VND105 trillion ($5 billion) earlier in the year. Banks have applied lower interest rates on mortgages and worked together with project developers to implement a variety of support programmes. These combined factors are expected to help invigorate the property market in the remaining months of the year.

Kien Giang province, VNA, Vinpearl combine to promote Phu Quoc

Kien Giang province, home of Phu Quoc Island, is working with national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines and property firm Vinpearl JSC on a programme to promote tourism, trade and investment on the island toward it becoming one of Vietnam’s special economic zones.

On September 24 the three help a press briefing to announce VNA’s launch of two new international routes between Phu Quoc, Singapore and Siam Riep in Cambodia. They will be the first international flights linking the island to international destinations.

Trinh Ngoc Thanh, deputy general director of VNA told reporters that the first flight to Singapore will take off from Phu Quoc Airport on November 2. The airliner will operate A321 aircraft to and from Singapore on every Thursday and Sunday. Beginning December 18 the carrier’s ATR-72 planes will serve flights to and from Siam Riep on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays.

He said VNA is also considering additional routes between the island and other destinations in Southeast Asia.

On November 1 a high-end tourism complex, the Vinpearl Resort Phu Quoc, located along Bai Dai (Long Beach) will officially open, offering 750 five-star hotel rooms as well as villas and accompanying amenities including a golf course and recreation areas.

Le Van Thi, Chairman of Kien Giang People’s Committee said the resort, the biggest so far on Phu Quoc, will help overcome the shortage of hotel rooms on weekends and holidays.

Last year Phu Quoc International Airport received almost 700,000 arrivals, up 39 per cent against 2012. International tourists accounted for 37 per cent of this total. This figure did not account for visitors who arrived by sea.

Toyota, GM launch new car models in Vietnam

Toyota Vietnam and GM Vietnam have launched new versions of Corolla Altis 2014 and Chevrolet Cruze 2014 respectively with improvements in design, performance and fuel efficiency.

Toyota Vietnam has introduced Altis 2.0V, Altis 1.8G and Altis 1.8G models available in dark brown, attitude black, silver metallic and grey metallic. They retail for VND944 million, VND807 million and VND757 million per unit respectively.

The company said the new cars target private customers.

Corolla Altis made its debut in Vietnam in 1996 and its total sales volume has exceeded 48,000 units as of September this year.

As for the 2014 Chevrolet Cruze, GM Vietnam said this new model has been equipped with an array of safety features and technologies, with the Cruze LS priced at VND560 million and the Cruze LTZ at VND672 million (VAT included).

The 1.8L DOHC Ecotec engine in the Cruze LTZ and the 1.6L DOHC engine in the Cruze LS have four cylinders and are installed with the Variable Intake Manifold system that helps increase fuel efficiency and reduce engine noise in the cabin.

Business associations want cap on advertising costs removed

Representatives of business associations have thrown their support behind a Ministry of Finance proposal to remove the 15% advertising cost cap.

Dinh Thi My Loan, chairwoman of the Association of Vietnam Retailers, told a conference on the issue in Hanoi last week that removing the cap is a right move.

The revised Corporate Income Tax Law 2013 curbed expenditures for advertising, marketing and promotions at 15% of total legitimate costs compared to the previous rate of 10%, which many enterprises have complained about.

Recently, the ministry has suggested the Government lift the cap and the petition has been endorsed by the Government.

“Business associations are of the opinion that the advertising and marketing cost cap should be abolished,” Loan stressed. She referred to a survey conducted in 50 countries in the world revealed that only Vietnam and China still maintain the advertising cost limit.

However, China’s policy is more flexible as it allows enterprises to transfer the unused quota in such cost caps in a given year to the following year.

Pham Thi Thu Hang, general secretary of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said the Prime Minister has okayed solutions to help enterprises overcome difficulties and sharpen their competitiveness, one of which is to spend more on advertising.

Hang however said some National Assembly (NA) deputies still disagree with the finance ministry’s suggestion.

“Those deputies said if the advertising cost cap is no longer in place, foreign direct investment (FDI) firms will advertise more and domestic firms will not be able to compete,” she said.

Such worry is not justified, as how enterprises compete in the market should be decided by enterprises themselves, not to mention that FDI firms have already built their own brandnames before entering Vietnam.

“The regulation on advertising cost upper limit is not necessary and in my opinion, it should be removed,” she said.

Pham Thanh Minh, vice chairman and general secretary of Hanoi Advertisement Association, said: “If businesses are restricted from advertising expenses, then advertising enterprises cannot develop and cannot invest in technologies and manpower and therefore, cannot build big brandnames.”

Enterprise representatives are pinning hopes that the NA will consider the issue at the eighth session due to open late next month.

Domestic apparel sales predicted to rise 10-15%

The Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group (Vinatex) forecast that domestic revenue of the apparel sector this year would grow by 10-15% over last year although consumers are tightening spending.

Vinatex made the projection based on revenues of its affiliates and other garment companies in the industry.

Vinatex deputy general director Hoang Ve Dung told the Daily on the sidelines of the Vietnam International Fashion Fair (VIFF) 2014 kicking off in HCMC last week that the domestic revenue growth is mainly supported by large apparel firms which have invested heavily in new factories and new products to meet demand of local customers.

The companies include Duc Giang Corporation which has just launched its HeraDG brand, Viet Tien Garment Joint Stock Corporation with its new Viettien Kid products for children under 11 years old, and Phong Phu Fabric Joint Stock Company with its Style brand.

Dung said domestic sales of Vinatex’s subsidiaries were put at VND22 trillion this year, accounting for 30% of total turnover of the industry.

Local apparel enterprises sell at least 20% of its products to the local market and the reserve the rest for export, according to Dung.

The General Statistics Office estimated domestic retail revenue of the apparel sector at VND9.5 trillion last month, rising by 2.1% over the previous month, and the price index of apparel-footwear-hat items inched up 0.32% month-on-month.

Around 200 enterprises are showcasing their products at more than 300 booths at VIFF 2014. Major exhibitors include Viet Tien, Phong Phu, Duc Giang, Dong Nai Garment Co., Hanoi Garment and Textile Co., Garment Co. 10, Hoa Tho, Viet Thang and Dong Xuan.

Importers of garments and textiles as well as branches of Thai garment firms also participate in the fashion fair, which lasts until September 29.

Auto market growth seen unsustainable

Auto manufacturers and traders see the strong growth rate of this market as short-lived due to seasonal factors, while the long-term outlook is still full of uncertainties.

August is the 17th month in a row that auto sales saw higher year-on-year growth. In the last eight months, total sales of Vietnam’s auto market amounted to 90,560 vehicles, rising 35% year-on-year, with the number of sedans increasing 37% and that of trucks up 32%.

Traders said the strong growth was due to lower registration tax policy and softer-interest bank loans.

However, some manufacturers seemed cautious when discussing the future of the industry. They said the business growth can only be solid on basis of economic development, but the domestic economy is still in distress.

Explaining the staggering auto sales growth, businesses said buyers now have easier access to bank loans with low interest, making the market warmer than in same periods in the last two years.

Some transport service firms took advantage of low-interest loans to upgrade vehicles and expand their fleets.

The registration fee cut clearly affected the number of car buyers.

The HCMC government reduced the registration tax for vehicles under ten seats from 15% to 10%, a sharp fall that helps improve the auto market’s growth rate. Earlier, some major consumption markets like Hanoi and Danang had also adjusted down this tax to 10%.

The growth of auto sales can also be attributed to the tighter control of overloaded vehicles in recent months. Transport service companies had to purchase more vehicles to meet transportation needs and ensure business efficiency.

In addition, auto firms have taken many measures to stimulate consumption to help increase the market such as offering discounts, promotions, good after-sales services or launching new products.

Although there were some bright spots in the overall picture of the automobile industry, many businesses assessed the market is only in the early stages of recovery.

Ho Chi Minh City sees significant economic recovery

Ho Chi Minh City is likely to realise the 9.5-10 percent GDP growth rate target set for the full year when it is prompted by a year-on-year GDP expansion of 8.9 percent in the January-September period.

The HCM City Development Research Institute made the assessment at the municipal People’s Committee’s meeting reviewing the nine-month socio-economic situation and key tasks for the rest of the year on September 27.

Chairman of the municipal People’s Committee Le Hoang Quan said most economic targets were reached with growth rates higher than in 2013.

In the period, retail sales of goods and services were estimated at over 476 trillion VND (22 billion USD), up 12.5 percent over the same period last year, the Committee reported.

Meanwhile, exports were 23.8 billion USD, an increase of 3.5 percent, while imports were 24.8 billion USD, down 8.78 percent (the same period last year increased by 12.92 percent).

The city granted investment certificates to 292 new foreign-in projects and allowed 88 others to increase their capital, with a total sum of 1.45 billion USD, an increase of 6.9 percent over the same period.

State budget collection reached 189.3 trillion VND (8.89 billion USD), accounting for 83.66 percent of the estimate for the whole year, an increase of 15.66 percent.

At the meeting, Quan asked branches and sectors to continue solving problems and increasing support for businesses when it comes to the issue of capital, investment environment and market exploitation, competitiveness and product quality improvement.

He also asked for increasing public investment efficiency, accelerating administrative reform, and focusing investment on developing the sectors that serves the promotion of economic growth and economic structure transformation.

Strategic HR development – key to business success

Without a long-term human resource (HR) development strategy, businesses are unable to stand firm and operate efficiently in a highly competitive environment, experts warned at a workshop in HCM City on September 29.

Business representatives admitted that HR, especially quality HR, is the decisive factor behind their companies’ success in international integration.

The matter is more urgent when Vietnam is joining a large number of free trade agreements, including the Vietnam-EU and Trans-pacific Partnership agreements.

Taking advantage of these FTAs requires businesses to attract and develop qualified human resources capable of raising the company’s competitiveness.

The fact is that Vietnam has yet to draw up a comprehensive HR development strategy to meet the requirement of global integration.

It was reported at the workshop that on average, 300,000 students graduate from secondary schools each year and over 70% of them are unable to find suitable full-time employment between 12 to 24 months.

Today’s multinational employers are looking for job applicants with core business competencies and exceptional interpersonal skills but unfortunately too many secondary students are not bothering to accrue such skills.

In addition, many graduates lack adequate training in soft skills such as critical thinking and are not sufficiently inquisitive, which are vitally important in the era of regional and international integration, speakers said.

The employment situation is certain to tighten up and become more exacerbated with the realization of the ASEAN Economic Community (ASEAN) by 2015 and other key FTAs most likely to come into effect next year.

Employers today can choose from candidates from all over the globe and landing a good paying job is highly dependent on possession of these core competency skills.

Representatives of large multinational companies shared the view that global competitiveness starts with human resource advantages.

Finding a job at graduation has always been challenging, but in today’s competitive environment, entrepreneurial drive among even entry level job applicants is the order of the day, they said.

It is incumbent upon secondary schools and the business community to work collectively to approach and deal with the HR dilemma in a comprehensive and long-term manner, said Pham Phu Ngoc Trai, President of the HCM City Business Club.

Seminar looks at future of local cocoa industry

Agricultural officials, experts, farmers, and business executives yesterday discussed the state of the cocoa industry and the opportunities to develop it in Binh Phuoc and the south-eastern region at a seminar held in the province.

Organised by the "Cooperation for enhancing sustainable cocoa development" project (also known as PPP Cocoa) in collaboration with the Binh Phuoc Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, it sought to help agriculture managers and policy makers come up with a more efficient production paradigm to deliver benefits to farmers and the agricultural sector in the region.

Le Thi Phi Van, a researcher at the Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agriculture and Rural Development, said a study done in Binh Phuoc in July underlined the great potential of the cocoa industry.

"The climatic conditions and soil and the very large area under cashew (around 140,000 ha) are ideal for developing an intensive cocoa-cashew farming model there," she said.

Nguyen Van Hoa, deputy director of the Department of Crop Production, said the cocoa-cashew model was, if enough water was available, a suitable intercropping solution for cashew growing areas, helping increase the productivity and quality of both crops.

There were many successful instances of this model in the province which have delivered more efficiency for farmers and increased the value of each unit of land, he said.

Le Xuan Phien, a farmer in Thong Nhat Commune in the province's Bu Dang District, said that he planted 600 cocoa trees on one hectare of cashew and coffee, annually harvesting around one tonne of dry cocoa beans, two tonnes of cashew, and 1.2 tonnes of coffee to earn more than VND100 million (US$4,760). "Since we intensively farm cocoa-cashew, my family's income has increased by VND40-60 million ($1,900-2,850) a year."

Nguyen Vinh Thanh, director of the cocoa sector at Cargill Viet Nam, said, "When planting 500 additional cocoa trees on one hectare of cashew and intensively farm both, farmers can double their income to around VND80 million ($3,800) per hectare at current prices."

In the domestic market, fermented cocoa bean prices have been stable since the beginning of the year at VND55,000-59,000 ($2.6-2.8) per kilogram (excluding the premium), a significant increase from the VND45,000 ($2.1) prevailing at the end of last year.

When farmers apply proper farming practices and suitable fertilisers, cocoa trees offer high yields and profits.

Binh Phuoc has been implementing policies to enable farmers to grow cocoa in a sustainable manner, and targets increasing the area under intensive cocoa-cashew farming to 20-30 thousand hectares by 2020.

Phan Van Don, deputy director of the Binh Phuoc Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, said, "The model of intensive cocoa-cashew farming in the province has brought about greater efficiencies and saving of lands compared to monoculture crops, contributing to a shift towards crop diversification and the province's poverty reduction programme."

With its potential and advantages, the province was expected to become one of the major cocoa-growing regions in Viet Nam, contributing greatly to socio-economic development at the local and national levels, he said.

The cocoa sector in the province also receives great support from the private sector. The PPP Cocoa project, for instance, aligns the public efforts with those by Mars, Cargill, Grand Place Puratos, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, the Dutch Government, Rabobank Foundation, and IDH The Sustainable Trade Initiative.

PPP Cocoa aims to achieve sustainable development in Viet Nam by supporting the development of quality seeds, technical transfer through training and creation of model fields, lending fertilisers, and making a commitment to buy cocoa.

The cocoa industry sees new opportunities thanks to the growing global demand, which is expected to cause a shortage of one million tonnes in 2020, according to experts. The demand is rising significantly in populous emerging countries like China, India, and Indonesia, which are also Viet Nam's markets.

Viet Nam has suitable climate and soil for the crop, and its cocoa products are considered among the world's best.

Government enforces price cap on milk products for young children

Concerned government agencies have applied a price ceiling on 538 milk products for children under six years old, according to the Ministry of Finance.

The move came three months after the agencies applied Government measures to stabilise the products' prices, said ministry officials.

Last June, the Government approved the ministry's proposal for a price ceiling on the products and viewed it as one of the measures needed to control prices.

The ministry reported that with the regulation, the prices of the milk products had so far fallen by 0.3 to 34 per cent.

Most cities and provinces have organised delegations to inspect the price cap implementation and found that most traders and producers have obeyed. Also, the businesses have registered the prices of these products with State offices in line with existing regulations.

In cases of violations, the inspection delegations imposed nearly VND62 million (US$2,910) in fines on offenders.

To better implement the regulation, the ministry required concerned agencies in cities and provinces to continuously supervise the price cap implementation and make a monthly report on it to the ministry.

Besides instructing customs, tax and price management agencies to determine price caps, the ministry will also continuously co-ordinate with the Ministry of Health to scrutinise and add more milk products to the list.

According to Nguyen Anh Tuan, director of the ministry's Pricing Management Department, the cap will be maintained till June 2015, and the ministry will submit a summary report on it to the Prime Minister.

The cap could be removed after June if the milk market stabilises. However, if the market remains bad, the ministry will ask the Prime Minister to extend the cap's implementation.

Petrolimex cuts fuel prices for sixth time since August

The Viet Nam National Petroleum Group (Petrolimex) reduced the selling price of RON 92 gasoline by VND150 (0.7 US cent) per litre to VND23,560 ($1.11) at 3pm yesterday.

The prices of 0.05S diesel and kerosene also declined by VND380 (1.7 cents) and VND320 (1.5 cents) per litre to VND21,120 ($0.99) and VND21,350 ($1) respectively.

The price of Mazut will also be reduced by VND320 (1.5 cents) per kilo.

The selling price of RON 92 gasoline was VND141 (0.6 cents) per litre higher than the base price, according to officials of the Ministries of Finance and Industry and Trade.

This is the sixth time that retail prices have been cut since August. The last price cut was on September 19.

Hai Duong stabilises prices of five staple commodities

The northern province of Hai Duong decided to spend VND25 billion (US$1.2 million) on a price stabilisation programme for the end of the year and the upcoming lunar new year festival.

The prices of five commodities will be stabilised, namely 200,000 kilograms of rice, 50,000 kilograms of sugar, 100,000 litres of cooking oil, 70,000 kilograms of pork and beef products and 80,000 kilograms of processed and frozen seafood.

The programme will begin today and last until March 31.

Tien Giang holds rural industry and trade fair

An annual rural industry and trade fair opened in the Mekong Delta province of Tien Giang on Monday.

Nearly 600 stalls of 154 enterprises will display agro-aqua-forestry products, farm equipment, garments, fine art, electronics and IT products.

The fair aims to support provincial firms and co-operatives and expand consumption of their products as part of a programme encouraging Vietnamese to prioritise domestically produced items.

The fair will close on October 4.