Agricultural products need protection after FTA

Signing the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the European Union (EU) and Vietnam will create opportunities for exported Vietnamese agricultural products in the EU market.

The EU will not only reduce its taxes on these goods but also accept responsibility for protecting the reputations of famous Vietnamese agricultural produce brands.

The European Commission (EC) in Vietnam recently organised a workshop on Geographical Indication (GI) and the prospects for protecting Vietnamese agricultural products in the EU.

Ambassador Franz Jessen said the EU is one of Vietnam’s most important trade partners. Vietnam’s total EU export revenue has hit US$13 billion, making it the only regional grouping to boast an export turnover increase last year.

Negotiations for the EU-Vietnam FTA look destined for success. After it is signed, most Vietnamese agricultural products will only face taxes ranging from zero to five percent. The ratification of the GI agreement will deliver many benefits to the Vietnamese agricultural industry.

Many foreign businesses use counterfeits to exploit the reputation of Vietnamese agricultural brands already popular in the EU.

Ratifying the FTA will encourage producers possessing GI in Vietnam to register for the direct protection of their traditional products in the EU, making international promotional significantly easier.

Tran Huu Nam, Deputy Head of Vietnam’s National Office of Intellectual Property, said Vietnam’s geological, climactic, and cultivation idiosyncrasies create many agricultural products that would benefit from GI.

So far, Vietnam has granted GI to 35 agricultural products, three of which are protected overseas. Statistics suggest almost 1,000 products could be eligible and suitable for GI.

EC Department of Agriculture and Food Representative Laurent Lourdais, explained the EU’s three GI-related systems currently in operation. They are Protected Designation of Origin (PDO), the Protected Geographical Indication (PGI), and the Traditional Specialty Guarantee (TSG).

Farm produce bearing GI certification are sold at twice the price of those without. Consumers are also protected from unwittingly purchasing counterfeits.

The EU has extended its GI protection to 14 foreign agricultural products, including some from China (10 products), Colombia (one), India (one), Thailand (one), and Vietnam (one).

Once the Vietnam-EU FTA enters into effect, the procedure for registering Vietnamese goods for this production will become radically simpler.

Some Vietnamese specialties—such as Chu Se pepper, Buon Ma Thuot coffee, Shan Tuyet tea, Binh Thuan green dragon fruit, and Phan Thiet fish sauce—are internationally renowned and need the EU’s anti-fraud protection.

As both the EU and Vietnam have long agricultural histories encompassing numerous traditional farming methods, farm produce GI certification is especially important for socioeconomic development in rural areas.

Vietnam keen on international aviation cooperation

Up to 300 world leading aviation strategists have gathered at a conference to share their experiences with Vietnamese aviation operators to map out action plans for the country’s developing aviation logistics sector amid the global economic difficulties.

At the April 25 conference jointly held in Ho Chi Minh City by the Vietnam Logistics Association and the Civil Aviation Administration of Vietnam, industry insiders and experts discussed issues relating to aviation transport logistics such as opportunities and challenges for newly-emerging markets, aviation logistics connectivity, aviation logistics amid an economic recession, training and security.

The event created a venue for domestic operators to develop service supply chains with international partners, penetrating deeper into the global supply chain. It was also a chance for foreign companies to seek business ties with Vietnamese partners.

Experts predicted that the aviation sector will continue to face huge challenges in 2013 due to the global economic hardship, increasing cost of fuel and aviation security. Therefore, the conference is expected to come up with suitable ways to create close ties among businesses in the sector and find new development opportunities.

According to the Vietnam Civil Aviation Administration, Vietnam’s aviation industry transported 17.5 million passengers and 201,000 tonnes of cargo in 2012, a year-on-year increase of 5.2 percent and 1.98 percent respectively.

Smuggled gold sneaking onto local market

More smuggled gold has been launched onto the local market due to the widening gap between local and global gold prices in recent times, heard a meeting between the HCMC branch of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) and related agencies in the city on Monday.

Declining to elaborate on the smuggled gold quantity that has been found and detained, a source from the meeting told the Daily that the volume detected recently is not as large as in previous years but has increased gradually. More smuggled gold will flow into the country if the global-local gold price gap widens further, the source predicts.

According to members attending the meeting, smuggled gold after arriving in the nation is sold to enterprises as gold materials. These companies will process smuggled gold into thin bars and jewelry to sell them in the market as they are disallowed to sell gold bars bearing SJC brand or others while gold bar moulds are managed by SBV.

Smuggled gold volume available in the local market therefore is not large, they said.

However, the participants also sought solutions to prevent smuggled gold including supervising border gates and jewelry makers. Also, they suggested checking the quality of gold bars for sale at home.

Local gold prices surpassed global prices by up to VND6.4 million a tael on Tuesday afternoon. That is because global prices fell by a staggering US$13 against the closing price in the New York market on Monday to US$1,413.3 an ounce on Tuesday, while local prices only posted a mild reduction of VND10,000 a tael. A tael equals 1.2 troy ounces.

The 26,000 taels of gold that the central bank put up for sale via on Tuesday morning’s auction all found buyers. The floor bidding price set by the central bank is VND41.97 million a tael, VND150,000 a tael higher than the opening buying price of SJC. The lowest winning price is VND42.04 million a tael and the highest VND42.12 million.

As such, the central bank since March 28 has sold out a combined 11.2 tons of gold via auctions, with most of buyers being commercial banks in need of gold for arrears settlement.

There will be two more gold auctions this week as the monetary authority plans to continue doing the job until local banks have no appetite for the precious metal.

The U.S. dollar price still remained high in the unofficial market and at local lenders on Tuesday, with VND21,400 recorded in the free market, a mild decrease of VND50 from 24 hours earlier.

The greenback quoted at local banks still fluctuated between VND20,940 and VND20,950, equal to the price as observed on Monday.

Banks have money to lend - but few takers

Some of Vietnam’s leading banks are now reporting modest credit growth at best - and even contraction in some cases-despite ample capital resources and sliding lending rates.

DongA Bank’s credit business contracted 2 per cent in the first quarter of 2013 despite its copious capital, according to the bank’s general director Nguyen Phuong Binh.

“We found it would not be easy to find good customers as well as properly identify risks in current context, which are major hindrances to credit growth. This year DongA envisages 9 per cent growth target, much lower than last year,” Binh said.

Eximbank, known for its smooth work in import-export financing, is also facing a stiff challenge in bolstering credit growth.

Accordingly, Eximbank recorded a credit decline in the year ending April.

Eximbank’s general director Truong Van Phuoc attributed the bank’s poor credit performance to sinking market consumption and firms’ high unsold stock, which have averted firms from borrowing for production expansion or launching new business.

“Our bank still targets a 15 per cent credit growth this year in parallel to bettering credit quality and ramping up efforts to drive down overdue debts and bad debts,” said Phuoc.

ACB, meanwhile, reported a credit growth of 2 per cent in the first quarter against 12 per cent full-year credit growth target.

At state giant BIDV, its credit growth in the first quarter was 2.7 per cent only, tantamount to VND8.6 trillion ($410 million).

In respect to the bank’s VND3 trillion ($143 million) preferential credit package which was launched from onset of April, only VND100 billion ($4.8 million) was disbursed so far, according to the bank’s deputy general director Tran Xuan Hoang.

Poor profit growth made banks cautious in devising profit targets in 2013.

For instance, DongA Bank has set its pretax profit at VND1 trillion ($48 million) in 2013, up VND230 billion ($11 million) against 2012’s implemented level but still VND500 billion ($24 million) lower than 2012’s projection.

Foreign investors stick with ACB after controversy

Foreign shareholders at Asia Commercial Bank will continue to team up with the Vietnamese lender despite the scandalous arrests of some executives in August 2012 that prompted changes in the bank’s board of directors.

The UK-based Standard Chartered Bank, which holds a 15 per cent stake in ACB, is supporting it in hopes of making the lender to continue to be one of Vietnam’s best banks, said Julian Fong Loong Choon, a high-ranking executive from Standard Chartered Bank.

He spoke this while sitting on the chairing panel of the bank’s shareholders’ meeting in Ho Chi Minh City today. The meeting elected him and Standard Chartered Hong Kong executive director Andrew Colin Vallis into the ACB board of directors for the 2013-2017 term.

Former HSBC Vietnam board member Alain Cany was re-elected to the ACB management board.

ACB’s newly-elected board consists of the three foreigners and eight Vietnamese, including ACB co-founder and former chairman Tran Mong Hung, and his son Tran Hung Huy, the current chairman of the bank.

According to Choon, Standard Chartered Bank will this year be adding senior resources to assist ACB in the areas of strategy, financial markets, risk management, business development and restructuring.

He said one of the working principles of the board of directors now was to work for the sake of all shareholders, not for any individual or any group of shareholders.

ACB started to face a crisis after the August 2012 arrests of former vice chairman Nguyen Duc Kien and CEO Ly Xuan Hai for alleged wrongdoings in their business practices and the later resignations of three other top officers.

Followings the arrests of Kien and Hai, then ACB chairman Tran Xuan Gia and his deputies Le Vu Ky and Trinh Kim Quang stepped down. In September, police started investigations on their accused deliberate violations of state regulations on economic management causing serious consequences. They were facing charges for their connections to Huynh Thi Huyen Nhu, former executive of a branch of state-run VietinBank, and her accomplices who were alleged to have expropriated VND718 billion ($34.5 million) from ACB. Then, the ACB board named Huy as new chairman.

The April 26 shareholders’ meeting agreed upon the bank’s 2013 before-tax profit of VND1.8 trillion ($86.5 million), quite higher than VND1.042 trillion ($50 million) achieved in 2012.

Addressing the meeting, To Duy Lam, director of the State Bank of Vietnam Ho Chi Minh City Branch, said he believed ACB would beat the target because the lender already got back on track after the “August incident” and is recovering in a manner that targets long-term sustainable growth.

The meeting also agreed upon the bank’s proposal to set up a gold trading company. ACB will establish the new arm by upgrading its existing gold jewelry processing centre. ACB CEO Do Minh Toan said the new company was expected to make profit for the bank next year.

ACB will pay 2012’s dividends in cash at 6.85 per cent.

High-end properties pushed despite slump

The crisis in Vietnam’s real estate market has not hindered some developers from expanding their high-end property portfolios.

Many developers are struggling with the downturn of real estate market, delaying and scaling down projects because of a huge amount of unsold properties. But Bitexco is still pursuing its latest project - the Manor Park City in Hanoi.

The Manor Park City will be developed into an eco-city with 1,066 townhouses and villas, and more than 8,000 apartments with total investment of $1.9 billion. Bitexco plans to build 250 townhouses and villas in the first phase, but more surprisingly, while other developers and policy makers are struggling to find ways to sell thousands of pricey stockpiled apartments, Bitexco still plans to build 500 high-end apartments.

Building high-end apartments at this time is considered one of the highest risks for developers, because over the last two years, transaction of high-end apartments has remained almost frozen. Moreover, the number of unsold apartments has been increased. According to CBRE, Hanoi now has stockpile of 21,600 units.

According to Tran The Viet, Bitexco project development director, the company’s management board has carefully considered all risks related to building up new apartments, but they still decide to invest in this segment.

Bitexco is not the only developer swimming against the current. Vietnam Sotheby’s International Realty also made a daring decision when it agreed to be sales agent for Fusion Suites, a vacation property in Danang, and Watermark, a residential project in Hanoi.

Vacation property and high-end apartments are two most difficult segments for all marketing agencies during recent times due to low buyer interest.

So what is the motivation for Bitexco and Sotheby to face up with such big challenges - to invest in and sell segments which are considered less prospective while the real estate market is falling into crisis?

Acknowledging the difficulties, Viet said that the company could not avoid downturn if it is still following the old way of building apartments like many other developers.

Bitexco’s strategy is to create a type of products which is totally different from others in quality, like the existing residential areas Manor Hanoi and Manor Ho Chi Minh City, which Bitexco successfully sold 10 years ago.

Viet said that apartments in The Manor Park City were designed with reasonable space, started from 43 square metres, to larger ones in the upper stories with gardens. This large range of apartments can meet the demand of different types of customers.

Viet said the project had a large area for parks and public facilities, and its location was largest “golden land” lot left in the newly business district of Hanoi, which is suitable for developing an eco project.

Meanwhile, Vietnam Sotheby’s International Realty general director Michael Piro said it was difficult to sell high-end properties in the current real estate crisis, but quality will attract buyers to Watermark, even though its price is at the highest level now in the market – at average of $2,300 per square metre.

Low-cost homes seen as lifeline for troubled developers

Listed realty developers have come up with new business strategies for 2013 including concentrating more on low-cost homes after a year struggling with slackened housing demand.

Most property companies are looking to the low-cost home segment in their 2013 strategies as local housing demand is rising. In fact, many firms were able to minimize losses last year by shifting investment to this segment earlier.

Financial reports of multiple industry players show that they still earned profits, albeit small, and that the revenues might have come from different sources, from property trading, financial investment to services.

Truong Anh Tuan, chairman of Hoang Quan Consulting - Service - Trading Real Estate Corp., said his firm posted more than VND300 billion in sales and nearly VND20 billion in profits last year. Hoang Quan’s sales and profit are lower than in previous years but its business result was still healthy in the context of the dreary market in 2012 when a slew of stocks were labeled bad or stopped from trading.

Tuan ascribed the positive performance partly to the fact that his company had focused on developing homes for low-income people with a series of projects in districts 2, 12, Hoc Mon and Thu Duc in HCMC.

Meanwhile, the firm offered townhouse lots for sale at VND250 million to VND600 million each in other provinces. For instance, the Cinderella project in the southern province of Ba Ria-Vung Tau created revenues for the developer during 2012.

Hoang Quan announced to take part in the country’s low-cost housing program with a complex project in the Mekong Delta province of Vinh Long and the HQC Plaza scheme in HCMC’s Binh Chanh District.

Similarly, Thuduc Housing Development Corp. (Thuduc House) recorded a consolidated after-tax profit of some VND27.5 billion at the end of 2012, just nearly half of the year’s plan. That was the first time in 11 years that Thuduc House had posted the lowest after-tax profit as a result of the worsened 2012 business situation.

Most revenues of Thuduc House came from management of farm produce markets which posted a growth of 19%, while its sales from realty trading fell sharply. Entering 2013, the enterprise continues to follow the realty industry as the core business but will pay more attention to building low-cost homes like S-Home products.

Facing the same woe, Petro Capital and Infrastructure Investment JSC (Petroland) experienced a challenging year to achieve sales of VND500 billion and a meager pre-tax profit of VND956 million. In 2013, Petroland still has two apartment projects in District 2 and District 7 to be completed and delivered to homebuyers.

Ho Chi Minh City investment flourishes

Despite the ongoing domestic and global economic woes, investment in Ho Chi Minh City has shown positive signs of foreign direct investment (FDI) re-growth in the first few months of this year.

In late March, the HCM City People’s Committee granted an investment license to Sanofi Vietnam One Member Company, Ltd., under the Sanofi Aventis Group.

The company invested US$75 million to build a factory and research centre for pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food supplements in HCM City Hi-Tech Park. This is Sanofi Vietnam’s third factory with the largest amount of investment.

A company representative said the most important factor for choosing the site for its factory was the high quality of human resources in HCM City. The company also received active support from the city in finalizing necessary procedures and improving transport infrastructure.

Hoang Lan Anh, Sanofi Vietnam Communications Director, noted that HCM City’s current policy to attract investment provides maximum support for foreign businesses to enter Vietnam, establish production and contribute to the country’s economic development.

Apart from central agency policies, HCM City Hi-Tech Park also offers many incentives to attract more investment to the city, she said.

Not a few foreign companies have also decided to invest in the city in the first few months of 2013.

As of March, 78 new FDI projects were licensed for operation in the city with total investment capital of nearly US$160 million, up 109 percent over last year’s same period, and there are still 26 adjustable expansion projects invested with over US$175 million.

Overall, the number of new projects has dropped but total investment capital has risen and adjustable capital increased much more than during the same period last year.

This shows signs of FDI re-growth which help investors regain their trust in the production and business environment in the city.

HCM City authorities and departments have recently made considerable efforts to boost the city’s investment environment by gradually improving transport infrastructure to reduce congestion and overload, providing facilities at industrial areas and export processing zones to welcome investors and focusing o education, training to increase high quality human resources.

The Hi-tech Park in District 9 was designed specifically for high-tech enterprises and it is now operating effectively, making it a desirable destination for technology investment in Vietnam.

The Hi-tech Park’s sixty three projects with total capitalization of US$2 billion have been granted licenses to establish business, three of which, worth nearly US$50 million, have been added since the beginning of this year.

HCM City Hi-tech Park Management Board Deputy Director Le Bich Loan said, "Our investment strategy is focused on open, international standard infrastructure to meet the needs of high-tech enterprises.”

To further improve its competitiveness and attract more investors to the city in the near future, HCM City will continue improving its investment environment and capital management, particularly for FDI; prioritize attracting new investment and large-scale projects; and apply modern and environmentally friendly technology.

It also aims to promote the efficient use of natural resources and limit the number of non-manufacturing investment projects not associated with processing.

The HCM City Planning and Investment Department Director Thai Van Re underlinied the need to remove cumbersome administrative procedures and deal with other problems that may arise after investment licenses or business registrations are granted to both domestic and foreign enterprises.

Business tax exemptions and payment extensions and social order is also a priority for attracting new investment, he noted.

The influx of investment, in the first few months of this year, especially from foreign sources, indicates the reforms to the city’s incentives, policies and mechanisms have been effective which has paved the way for the city to attract more investment towards achieving its socio-economic targets.

Nation sees goods, services sales boost

The country’s total retail sales value of goods and services increased by just 4.6 percent to 849.9 trillion VND (40.4 billion USD), according to a General Statistics Office (GSO) report.

Vu Manh Ha, an expert at the GSO’s Internal Economic Department, said this was the lowest increase for many years. In the previous years, total retail sales value of goods and services often increased by 7 percent to 10 percent.

Ha attributes the country’s low consumption during the first four months of the year to low purchasing in both domestic and foreign markets along with the global economic slowdown.

According to the GSO, in the first four months, the number of businesses having stopped production rose by more than 14 percent against the same period last year, while the number of newly established business declined by 6.8 percent.

Northern provinces' specialties to be introduced

A fair showcasing the northern region's agricultural, industrial and commercial products will be held in Ha Giang province from May 3-9.

Radio the Voice of Vietnam (VOV) website quoted Nguyen Duc Vinh, director of the Ha Giang provincial Department of Agriculture and Rural Development, as saying that the fair is part of the national agricultural promotion programme which aims to develop agriculture and forestry in northern provinces in the process of rural industrialisation and modernisation.

The event is expected to attract hundreds of domestic and foreign businesses which will display products and services in the fields of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, trade, transportation and handicrafts, he said.

During the fair, a wide range of activities will take place, including a seminar providing technical manuals and introducing investment policies and potential of 23 northern localities.

The event will provide a good chance for farmers, managers, scientists and businesses to exchange experiences, access advanced technologies to promote agricultural production and expand markets.

On the occasion, Ha Giang will introduce its Dong Van Stone Plateau, one of the world’s geological parks, and tourism products of ethnic minority people.

Bibica-Lotte partnership turns sour

It is a mistake to co-operate with Korean food and shopping conglomerate Lotte, claims the CEO of confectionery firm Bibica (BBC), Truong Phu Chien.

"The co-operation did not come up to my expectations. In some ways, developments were opposite to the original purpose," he said.

When choosing Lotte as a partner, Bibica wanted the support in terms of management, technology and knowledge on imports and exports.

"After five years, however, Lotte has been always targeted at making us a subsidiary," he said.

Chien said that Lotte's activities in Bibica showed that the Korean investor wanted to exploit the Vietnamese company as a distribution unit.

"When my company invested in producing the Lotte Pie brand, we could not develop diverse products, only Lotte's products," Chien added.

When the agreement on producing Lotte Pie products expires this October, Bibica will no longer co-operate with Lotte.

Domestic businesses did not often state the maximum stake a foreign investor could hold when making contracts, Chien said.

"Less than 25 per cent ownership for a foreign investor is the safety zone. If holding more than 34 per cent, the investor can dominate."

Currently, Lotte holds 38 per cent of Bibica.

In an announcement made on Thursday, deputy director Nguyen Khac Hai of SSI Asset Management – the major shareholder in Bibica – said he did not attend the confectionery firm's annual meeting because of its troubles with Lotte.

Saigon Securities Inc (SSI), the mother company of the fund holding nearly 30 per cent in Bibica, received some information about the poor business of Bibica.

"First, the illegal retirement of some regional sales directors will cause serious impacts to the business in the north," Hai said.

In addition, he claimed Bibica had signed some contracts with Lotte without the board of directors' approval. These deals showed unfavorable terms for Bibica.

SSI chairman Nguyen Duy Hung told the financial information website that he did not go to Bibica's shareholder meeting "to hear arguments between Bibica and Lotte".

"The conflicts between them have peaked as the management officials don't trust each other," he said.

Because each of the sides would state their own reasons, Hung suggested shareholders with no conflicts of interest should find a common voice before organising another meeting.

Lotte was not available for comment.

FPT IS creates e-services package

FPT IS, a subsidiary of the software giant FPT, has officially announced a full package of electronic services including digital signatures, e-tax declarations and e-customs for enterprises.

Duong Dung Trieu, general director of FPT IS, said that as the country's first full package of e-services, FPT IS would benefit more than 80,000 enterprises.

Trieu said the e-services package would help business reduce costs for infrastructure and equipment, save labour and facilitate quick and effective management.

HP introduces Moonshot system

HP announced yesterday that its Moonshot system is now available.

The system aims to help data centres economise on infrastructure by using 89 per cent less energy and 80 per cent less space than traditional servers.

The second-generation server, which also costs 77 per cent less than traditional infrastructure, was engineered to address the IT challenges created by social networks, cloud computing, mobile systems and large amounts of data. These software-defined servers are built from chips commonly found in smartphones and tablets.

Yahoo releases new mobile applications

Yahoo launched a brand new application package for mobile devices yesterday: a Yahoo weather forecast application for iPhone, iPod and iPod Touch and Yahoo email application for iPad and Android tablets.

Yahoo also sought help from users to get the best weather photography.

"Whether you're simply a daydreamer or an avid photographer, submit photos of your favourite places to our Flickr Group and your image can be seen by tens of millions in Yahoo Weather for iPhone", said Marco Wirasinghe, the company's director of Mobile and Emerging Products.

Intel Viet Nam offers computer assistance

Intel Viet Nam yesterday officially launched a programme to assist Vietnamese to effectively use computers and access the Internet.

Under the programme, local people throughout the country will get access to community IT on TV, using free-of- charge software for education while benefiting a reasonable price to buy a computer, said Carlos Martinez, general director of the Intel World Ahead of the Asian-Pacific region.

The programme aimed to help improve people's skills in using a computer before owning a computer, through TV and provided lessons that are designed for people who haven't used computers.

Italian businesses interested in VN

Businesses from Viet Nam and the Umbria region of Italy met in Ha Noi on Thursday to discuss ways to strengthen co-operation.

Speaking at the event, the Italian Deputy Ambassador to Viet Nam said the Italian businesses' visit to the country showed they were interested in investment and trade opportunities with the local colleagues.

He added that the firms were on the road to achieving their goal of increasing investment in Viet Nam.

Michele D'Ercole, ICHAM Chairman, said the Italian businesses hoped to not only introduce their products but also offer technology training to their Vietnamese partners.

The visiting businesses operate in various areas, including food, cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, construction materials, healthcare, vehicle manufacturing and other industrial sectors. While trade between Viet Nam and Italy remains modest, Viet Nam remains a promising market for Italian businesses.

Last year, Italian firms invested $250 million in Viet Nam.

The event was organised by the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Viet Nam (ICHAM).-

Dutch dairy firm increases price

The Dutch dairy firm FrieslandCampina Viet Nam announced to increase its fresh milk purchasing price by VND2,000 (US$0.1) to VND13,600 ($0.6) per kilogram.

Luu Van Tan, manager of the company's Dairy Development Program (DDP), said with this purchasing price adjustment, the company hopes to encourage Vietnamese farmers maintain the supply of high-quality and hygienic of the fresh milk.

Since 1996, FrieslandCampina Viet Nam has invested more than US$13 million in its Dairy Development Program (DDP) to support sustainable development of the industry in the country, Tan said.

The company has purchased 75,000 tonnes of fresh milk per year from 3,000 Vietnamese farms, accounting for one-fourth of the total fresh milk produced in Viet Nam, he said.-

Medi-Pharm 2013 to open next week

International Viet Nam MEDI-PHARM 2013 will be held in Ha Noi on May 8-15 with the participation of 350 pharmacy groups and enterprises from 30 countries and territories, organisers Vietfair said at a press briefing yesterday.

On display will be herbals, medicines, health equipment, package, modern machines and technologies for hospitals, and many others, Vietfair said.

During the 20th fair, other special exhibitions on international hospital in Viet Nam, dental and China Medi-Pharm 2013 will be held, the organiser said.-

PTI joins hands with Maritime Bank

Post-Telecommunication Joint Stock Insurance Corporation (PTI) and Maritime Bank signed a co-operative agreement to launch a new insurance product known as M-HomeCare.

Under the aggrement, Maritime Bank will be the sole distributor of M-HomeCare for PTI.

Viet Nam, Laos trade on course for 2015 target

Viet Nam and Laos expect to increase two-way trade turnover to US$2 billion by 2015 and $5 billion by 2020.

According to Tran Bao Giam, Trade Counsellor at the Vietnamese Embassy in Laos, Vietnamese products currently account for 16.4 per cent of Laos' imports – particularly steel and iron, petrol, vehicles, machines and spare parts, coal and textiles.

Giam said that the biggest difficulties Vietnamese enterprises faced when entering the market were the small size of the Lao economy, poor transport infrastructure and an incomplete legal framework or 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, he added, Vietnamese businesses should diversify the range of products they offered and participate more in bidding for projects in the fields of infrastructure construction, industry, mining, agriculture-forestry and social development.

Fertiliser measures expected to inspire sector growth

The quality and price of fertilisers will be controlled under a new decree being drafted by the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT).

Phung Ha, head of the ministry's Chemical Department, said the decree aimed to make sure customers got a fair deal.

Sharing the ideas, a spokesman for the Ministry of Justice said fertiliser production should be backed by quality guarantees to protect the nation's agricultural production and food safety.

In addition, the Government should have specific regulations on imported fertilisers and trading companies.

Pham Dong Quang, deputy head of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development's Department of Crop Production said fertilisers were made from complex ingredients. This was why the decree should be closely watched by the two ministries.

The decree is expected to settle the mentioned issues.

It will insist that enterprises can only produce fertilisers if they have business registration certificates or investment certificates. The enterprises will also be required to make environmental impact assessment reports and ensure workplace safety conditions and hygiene.

Quang said the regulations could help slash the number of shonky businesses producing low-quality or fake fertilisers by 50 to 60 per cent.

He added that the ministry would collect ideas from ministries and agencies to complete the decree and submit it to the Government in June.

Cooking gas canister prices go off the boil

The price of cooking gas will be even cheaper this month following an adjustment from retail gas distributors yesterday.

The retail price of a 12-kg canister was cut down by VND17,000 (US$0.81) to VND364,000 ($17.33).

This followed an earlier sharp cut in April, when domestic gas distributors slashed the retail price by VND24,000 ($1.14) to around VND381,000 ($18.14) per 12-kg canister.

Do Trung Thanh, deputy sales manager of Sai Gon Petrol, again attributed this decline to a fall on the world market. He said the price of imported gas in May had dropped by $57.5 per tonne against April's price to reach $755 per tonne.

Domestic gas prices have decreased continuously since the beginning of this year, falling VND7,000 per 12-kg canister in January, VND13,000 in February, VND4,000 in March, VND24,000 in April and VND17,000 in May.

VN must spice up price of pepper

 The Viet Nam Pepper Association (VPA) urged enterprises to enhance the quality of pepper while devising measures for brand positioning made-in-Viet Nam pepper to increase the products' export value.

According to VPA, Viet Nam's pepper products were present in more than 150 countries worldwide, accounting for 50 per cent of the global market share.

However, made-in-Viet Nam pepper products remained unknown to many consumers across the world.

VPA pointed out that up to 95 per cent of exported pepper had only undergone preliminary processing.

In addition, pepper products were exported through foreign partners before reaching customers, meaning the products were mainly sold under the brands of foreign processors.

This meant the export prices of pepper were often 30-40 per cent lower than the prices of ready-to-sell products.

Statistics showed the pepper price in the domestic market declined by roughly VND5,000-10,000 (US$0.24-0.48) per kilogram at the end of March.

The price gap of pepper between the domestic and world market also widened in the first three months of the year. The price gap of black pepper increased from $295 per tonne in 2012 to $389 per tonne currently while white pepper from $89 to $450-500 per tonne.

The export prices for black and white pepper were $92 and $436 per tonne lower than the average price of 2012, respectively.

VPA's president Do Ha Nam said enterprises should analyse the relationship between supply and demand in the market, to prevent price falls by choosing the best times for the release of pepper.

He also attributed the low price of made-in Viet Nam pepper products to their quality, as some did not meet the requirements of importers in terms of hygiene and safety.

According to Nam, there is a huge gap between the export value of black and white pepper, so enterprises should increase the percentage of white pepper produced to earn more profits.

In addition, the industry should aim to meet the US's ASTA standard (about the safety for spices sold in the US) for the quality of pepper products. The percentage of ASTA-approved pepper Viet Nam exported to Europe and the US remained limited.

Nam also urged the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development to roll-out detailed planning for the long-term sustainable development of the pepper industry.

In the first quarter of 2013, pepper exports reached 38,374 tonnes with a turnover of $254.1 million, representing rises of 23.5 per cent and 20 per cent on the same period last year, respectively.

Stores enjoy holiday sales surge

Several supermarkets in HCM City reported an upsurge in sales during the Liberation Day (April 30) and May Day holidays when they offered big discounts.

Big C supermarket, which offered discounts of 5-50 per cent, said the rise in sales reached its target.

Huynh Thi Ngoc Tram, head of Big C's public relations in the south, said the supermarket had stocked 30 per cent more than on normal days, and sold a lot of ready-to-eat and processed foods, fruits, vegetables and soft drinks.

There was also big demand for discounted items like kitchen utensils, garments and cosmetics, she added.

Sai Gon Co.op Mart chain also reported higher sales.

Vo Hoang Anh, director of Sai Gon Co.op Mart's marketing department, said sales of fresh and processed foods, fruits and vegetables, milk, and beverages increased sharply as people shopped for holiday parties.

Other retailers like Maximark and Citimart were also happy with higher sales.

To cope with the rush, the supermarkets employed more cashiers than normal and offered free delivery.

However, traditional markets like Thi Nghe and Tan Dinh reported normal sales.

Tran Thi Kiem Hoa of the Tan Dinh Market management board said only stalls selling fresh food like meat, seafood, fruits and vegetables reported higher sales than normal.

Prices were stable despite the high demand, except of chicken eggs and certain vegetables, but that was due to a supply shortfall, she said.

Firms urged to fulfil social responsibility

Despite the potential for better opportunities in the global market, many Vietnamese enterprises struggled to fulfil their corporate social responsibility (CSR), according to a leading business development figure.

Speaking at a recent workshop themed "Responsible and Sustainable Operation – a Continuing Journey", director of the Viet Nam Chamber for Commerce and Industry's Office for Business Sustainable Development Nguyen Quang Vinh said small-and-medium-sized enterprises had a lot of ground to make up.

He claimed the firms, which make up 97-98 per cent of total enterprises in Viet Nam, still lacked proper understanding, vision and resources to observe CSR properly.

"Insufficient awareness over CSR is the biggest challenge that Vietnamese enterprises are facing," Vinh said, listing examples of malpractice including business fraud, environmental damage, salary violations and poor labour safety.

They usually believed that social responsibility solely meant arranging charity activities, Vinh said, noting that CSR also included activities to ensure efficient economic growth, legal operation and community participation.

Secretary of Viet Nam Textile and Apparel Association Dang Phuong Dung said enterprises paid little regard to social responsibility as they did not see the benefits or opportunities that CSR could bring them.

"It's difficult for textile enterprises to observe social responsibilities as exporters, because they now have to follow various codes of conduct (CoC) imposed by different importers," she said.

She added that small and medium sized enterprises with limited staff and financial capacity would find it particularly tough to meet the various evaluation systems of their partners.

Many enterprises have so far ignored their social responsibilities, because until now, Viet Nam's legal framework has not made it compulsory for every business to follow them.

Experts noted at the workshop that big companies took social responsibilities more seriously as part of their efforts to meet partners' requirements.

Bryan Fornari, a representative from the EU Delegation to Viet Nam, said CSR should be included in a company strategy, helping enterprises maintain and improve competitive advantages.

He warned that as consumers increased their expectations, companies which did not fulfil their CSR could lose opportunities to access the market.

Vinh, from the Business Sustainable Development Office, said that if Vietnamese enterprises wanted to become multi-national, they had to find a way to effectively fulfil their social responsibilities.

"It's key for sustainable development, not just an added burden for enterprises," he said.

The workshop is part of a three-year project entitled "Helping Vietnamese SMEs adapt and adopt CSR for improved linkages with global supply chains in sustainable production."

Saving energy, improving worker skills to match new technology line, as well as avoiding child labour and counterfeiting products are part of the contents applied by SMEs under the framework of the project.

With an overall budget of more than US$2.63 million, the project was led by the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation and its governmental counterpart the Viet Nam Chamber of Commerce and Industry in co-operation with eight additional partners.

Chief technical advisor Florian Beraneck said the project was launched in 2010 as one of several CSR facilitation programmes in Viet Nam.

Three years on, thousands of workers and hundreds of businesses have improved their understanding of CSR through more than 100 events which have included forums, workshops and training courses, he said.