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Businesses in frenzy to complete orders for Tet; Overseas remittances pour into real estatel; State-owned firms under public scrutiny; Shrimp export up five-fold in Bac Lieu
Businesses in frenzy to complete orders for Tet

Every year ahead of the Tet festive season, markets and villages begin preparing traditional food items and a variety of specialties of various regions of the country to meet the huge consumer demand.

This frenzy to complete orders before Tet can also be seen in Lai Vung Village in the Mekong Delta province of Dong Thap--famous for fermented pork rolls. Nguyen Thanh Tho, owner of Giao Tho Company in Tan Thanh Commune, said the village makes these pork rolls all year round but the Tet festive season is always peak time.

Duong Tien Hai, owner of Tien Hai Company in Duyen Hai District in the Mekong Delta province of Tra Vinh is also busy preparing dried sea food.

As the Tet holiday season approaches closer, the company pushed for increased production to meet the huge demand.

Price of first class dried shrimp is around VND1.2 million ($57.6) a kilogram and dried shrimp soaked with seasoning is VND600,000 a kilogram, an average increase of 10-30 percent compared to the same period last year. This year, the company plans to sell around 10 tons of a variety of dried sea foods to markets.

According to the Department of Industry and Trade in the Mekong Delta, the demand for traditional and well-known brands will increase, but the government must control prices and ensure food safety and hygiene.

Ta Van Hoi, party secretary of Lai Vung District, said after Lai Vung fermented pork rolls became one of Vietnam’s specialties, markets have increased orders. Hence, quality and food safety is top priority. Small units are being asked to supplement production for big businesses and therefore quality needs to be monitored.

Tran Quoc Tuan, deputy director of the Department of Industry and Trade in Tra Vinh Province said all companies in the province expanded their production when the market became more robust. Besides, quality of products has improved thanks to advanced modern technology and better machinery.

Related agencies are tightening control of prices and checking on low quality products released during Tet. Phan Loi, head of the Department of Market Management in An Giang Province, said 12 inspection teams will be set up to check food safety and hygiene conditions before and after Tet Festival.

Banks asked to ensure cash supply for ATMs

The State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has urged commercial banks to make sure that the cash supply at their ATMs is enough to meet the increasing demand over Tet.

They are also required to deal with customer complaints and ensure smooth operations of ATMs. Banks have assigned staff to supervise ATM networks.

According to many banks, when Tet is nearing, ATM transactions are 4 to 5 fold higher than usual.

It has been a long-running problem during Tet for ATM users to not be able to access money, or find the machines only showing error messages.

Mrs. Thu Hong, one customer in Hanoi said that the problem is not limited to single ATMs, but also those in  front of bank branches. "The banks say that they are having technical problems, but we all know they have just run out of money."

Mr. Tran Hung in Hai Ba Trung District, Hanoi, said, “I haven't been able to withdraw money for almost a month. Since my company pays me through bank transfer I've had to withdraw that money from an ATM at another bank, incurring a fee of VND3,300 for every VND2 million (USD95.2)."

According to Tien Phong Newspaper, at 6:30 p.m on December 30, rows of workers at Tan Thuan Export Processing Zone were queuing to withdraw money from ATMs there, many saying that in previous years ATMs faced technical problems at this time.

Overseas remittances pour into real estate

Despite higher overseas remittances, less capital has been pumped into the domestic real estate market recently but more has been spent on buying foreign houses.

In previous years, overseas remittances to Vietnam sharply increased towards the end of the year, with the majority of the capital pumped into the real estate market.

According to statistics from the National Committee for Financial Supervision, the country received over USD9 billion worth of overseas remittances in 2011, 52% of which was used to invest in real estate.

Last year, despite the economic difficulties, overseas remittances to the country still increased by 20% from a year earlier, to nearly USD11 billion.

Due to the long-lasting slump in the domestic real estate market, Vietnam based receivers of remittances have been more hesitant to invest in the domestic market, and instead are seeking safer investment channels abroad.

Pham Duc Toan from the EZ Property Company said fewer overseas remittances were pumped into domestic real estate due to the poor value offered by the market.

The situation would get worse for this year as a result of modest liquidity in the market, Toan noted.

Nguyen Hoang Nam from Info Real Estate Transaction Floor said people often make investment decisions based on the prestige of a project’s investor, construction quality and implementation progress.

Vietnamese people who work abroad often use their relatives to invest in real estate. This means that they put safety as a top of priority when making an investment decision, Nam assessed.

Increasing numbers of Vietnamese have bought houses abroad under several forms.

With land prices in the US bottoming out, several Vietnamese decided to invest.

An official from Vietnam Real Estate Association said more Vietnamese people wanted to buy houses abroad in recent years, mainly in the US and Australia.

According to the statistics by Coldwell Banker Singapore, Vietnamese house purchases in 2010 accounted for 3.2% of real estate transactions in Singapore during that year.

An early wave of Vietnamese investment in the US real estate market has also been recorded.

More and more international housing consultancy agencies have started operations in Vietnam. For the first time a high-end apartment project in London has offered to sell their products in Hanoi at seven million pounds (USD11 million) per property.

Even though laws and regulations in Vietnam don’t ban people from investing in real estate abroad, there are extremely tight restrictions in transferring large volumes of cash abroad for personal purposes.

Due to these obstacles, many people have failed to complete procedures to buy property overseas despite paying deposits.

Real estate expert Edward Chi warned that in order to effectively invest in the foreign real estate market, Vietnamese investors should carefully study the laws in the countries they are considering buying property.

State-owned firms under public scrutiny

A new draft decree will place stricter regulations to force the state-owned firms to disclose more information for better transparency.

Bui Van Dung, Deputy Director of the Enterprise Reform and Development Department, under the Central Institute for Economic Management has confirmed this decision.

The affected enterprises will have to make public details about their operations, such as the kinds and amounts of investments, debts, assets and transactions, as well as make periodic reports on their use of capital, land, human resource and wages.

These details must be updated to the Ministry of Planning and Investment's website,

Bui Quang Vinh, Minister of Planning and Investment said transparency plays an important role regulating the business environment. After several sessions of the National Assembly, the OECD principals for transparency for state-owned enterprises finally took the form of this draft decree.

"It's a difficult issue, since state agencies to monitor the state-owned enterprises and we don't have a specialised department for monitoring them, we have to monitor them while fulfilling the rest of our regular duties," said Tong Thi Minh, Head of the Ministry of Labour, Invalid and Social Affairs' Department of Labour and Salary.

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung also admitted that supervision has been weak.

The draft decree also said that directors of enterprises could be fired if they show two consecutive years of losses. But in reality there are many cases in which this does not happen. There are 10 state-owned groups who have racked up losses amounting to VND17.7 trillion (USD815 million).

The Government Inspectorate and State Auditing Office constantly discovers wrongdoings when carrying out their investigations, yet repercussions are rarely seen. Despite losses amounting to VND30.7 trillion reported in April of last year, no individual was held accountable.

Even after wrongdoings at the Song Da Group amounting to VND10.6 trillion were discovered, the Minister of Construction, Trinh Dinh Dung, made excuses for the company.

Nguyen Canh Viet, Head of Vietnam National Shipping Lines (Vinalines) said that, though they sold numerous ships and reduced the number of branches, they still incurred a loss of VND2.4 trillion. He sent the Prime Minister suggestions for possible solutions, which included raising the group's chartered capital by 50%, or equitisation. The Ministry of Finance approved giving Vinalines priority loans, up to USD150 million for restructuring.

IHI Japan invests in Dinh Vu Industrial Park

IHI Infrastructure Asia Co Ltd has received its investment certificate for their proposed development project in Hai Phong-based Dinh Vu industrial park.

The total investment capital for this project has been announced as 47.7 million USD by the Hai Phong Economic Zone Authority.

The plant will produce 6,000 tonnes of steel, 80,000 cubic metres of concrete and 90 machines every year. It will cover an area of 140,000 square metres.

Construction is expected begin next month and the plant will become officially operational in early 2015. Japan's IHI Infrastructure Asia Co Ltd, under IHI Group Corp, has participated in construction work all over Viet Nam, particularly in the Binh Bridge and Nhat Tan Bridge projects.

Shrimp export up five-fold in Bac Lieu

In the first month of the year, seafood enterprises processed more than 6,000 tonnes of shrimp for export, a huge increase from last year.

As a result, the exports earn the province 20 million USD in revenue, twice the amount earned during the same period last year.

Traders now purchase tiger prawns at prices between 240,000-280,000 VND (11.5-13.4 USD) per kilo of 20 prawns, 160,000-180,000 VND (7.7-8.6 USD) per kilo of 30 and VND150,000 (7.2 USD) per kilo of 40, up 10,000-20,000 VND (0.48-0.96 USD) against last week.

Meanwhile, prices of white-legged shrimp are also on the rise, now sold at 130,000 VND (6.25 USD), 116,000 VND (5.58 USD) and 110,000 VND (5.29 USD) per kilo of 40, 50 and 60 pieces respectively. However, the supply is running short due to the shrimp crop coming to an end, according to local farmers.

New policies urged to boost confidence
The National Centre of Socio-Economic Information and Forecasting is calling on the Government to devise new policies to boost business confidence.

It also urges enterprises to improve the quality of their products and services in order to enhance their competitiveness.

The centre is basing its call on its recent survey of the business confidence of Vietnamese enterprises, the results of which have offered a basis for optimism about the prospects for the economy going forward, despite a difficult 2012.

About 910 enterprises operating in trade, services, manufacturing and processing in northern Bac Giang Province and the cities of Ha Noi, Da Nang and HCM City were surveyed by the centre.

The head of the centre's world economic department, Luong Van Khoi, said that business confidence saw improvements in the fourth quarter of 2012 and would continue to improve in the first half of this year based on the confidence that enterprises have expressed in Government policies to stabilise the economy.

While the business status index in the manufacturing and processing sectors rose from 9 points in the third quarter to 19 points in the fourth quarter of last year, manufacturing and processing enterprises remained worried about rising input costs and stagnant demand, all of which might impact their decisions to expand production, Khoi said.

To boost business confidence and stimulate the economy this year, the centre has proposed the Government continue to loosen monetary policies at a reasonable pace to increase the ability of enterprises to access capital as well as provide guarantees for small- and medium-sized enterprises.

Policies to accelerate demand through personal income tax reductions, subsidies and consumer promotion programmes were also needed, the centre said.

The centre advised enterprises, meanwhile, to focus on expanding export market and increasing their involvement in regional and global value chains.

Technology helps growth in remote areas

Hi-tech enterprises can be a driving force to speed up sustainable socio-economic development in mountainous rural areas, said Minister of Science and Technology Nguyen Quan.

Ten years ago, Viet Nam started a programme to boost technology transfer and application in mountainous rural areas. This helped drastically improve the localities' growth and residents' livelihoods, Quan told a meeting in central Binh Dinh Province.

In the last two years alone, nearly 280 projects have been carried out under the programme, providing technology transfer and training courses to technicians and farmers and designing models to apply technology to production.

As a result, over 960 advanced technologies were applied to agricultural production and over 2,500 local technicians underwent training - who then went on to instruct over 61,000 farmers.

The programme also helped establish 60 small and medium-sized enterprises and upgrade the technology used by more than 120 others.

However, the science and technology minister said, only about half of the proposed projects were approved - meaning that mountainous areas still needed significant technological aid.

He also noted that more funding was needed. About VND1.3 trillion (US$62.5 million) was approved for the programme during 2011-15, but an additional VND300 billion ($14.4 million) was required.

Tran Thi Thu Ha, deputy chairwoman of central Binh Dinh Province's People's Committee, said that the programme had helped the province develop more productive varieties of rice, sugar cane and poultry which were better at adapting to local weather and conditions.

She said that close co-operation between the State, donors, scientific institutes, enterprises and farmers played a vital role in the programme.

Science and technology research centres helped with technology transfer and expanding production, while enterprises helped boost technology application and market access.

Thieu Van Huy, a local farmer, said that his family had seen higher sugar cane yields thanks to the programme, which also taught him farming skills in classes held right in the field.

"Seeing that applying science and new technology can increase production, many other households are also excited about using the skills they learn," he said.

Banks to keep tight monetary policies

Credit institutions and State Bank branches have been told to keep tight but flexible control of their monetary policies to minimise inflation and accelerate growth, with reasonable interest rates.

In the short term, the State Bank has set a target to increase the total money supply by between 14-16 per cent and credit growth by 12 per cent.

The State Bank directive requires its headquarters to draft regulations on monetary and banking activities in accordance with international practices, standards and Vietnamese conditions.

The State Bank directive 01/CT-NHNN promulgated directive 01/CT-NHNN regarding the implementation of currency policies and assurances to ensure the safety and effectiveness of banking performance in 2013.

Under the directive, State Bank Governor Nguyen Van Binh called for the completion of guidance documents on the Law of the State Bank and Law on Credit Institutions 2010, Law on Deposit Insurance and Law on Anti-money laundering.

Binh asked credit institutions to set their annual credit growth targets at around 12 per cent, but in line with their abilities and liquidity management.

He also asked credit institutions to take measures to support production and business performance and to handle bad debt in accordance with the regulations.

In the first quarter this year, credit institutions have to work with the Ministry of Construction to issue guidelines on lending for social housing buyers.

This year, commercial banks will set aside a volume of money supply at reasonable interest rate for the purpose.

The State Bank asks the banks to control exchange rates in a flexible manner in accordance with the movement of the market; to improve international balance of payments and raise foreign currency reserves.

The central bank will review legal documents to intensify control over foreign currency in order to lure more remittances from overseas in the form of Vietnamese and foreign investment while handling acts of violations.

Binh requires banks to complete policies on gold market stabilisation to ensure the local gold price is equal to the international gold prices.

The process to convert deformed gold bars into standard gold bar will be accelerated to assist credit institutions to have standard gold bars.

The central bank will conduct close inspections and supervision on gold trading companies.

To restrict ailing banks, the central bank will instruct credit institutions to develop and implement suitable restructuring plans as well as encouraging them to take the initiative of merging and acquiring.

The State Bank will also require credit institutions to report their restructuring plans before February 28 this year.

Manufacturing health bounces but inflation a worry
At 50.1 in January, up from 49.3 in December, the seasonally adjusted HSBC Vietnam Manufacturing PMI edged back above the 50.0 no-change mark, according to the bank's report released yesterday.

The Purchasing Managers' Index is an indicator of the economic health of the manufacturing sector.

Although the headline index was consistent with a broad stagnation of the manufacturing sector, it was nonetheless above its series average of 48.9.

Manufacturing production increased for the third successive month in January as companies benefited from a modest improvement in new order volumes from the domestic market.

Overseas demand remained lacklustre, however, leading to a further solid decrease in new export orders. Vietnamese manufacturers reported lower levels of new work from the euro-zone and to a lesser extent China. There were also reports linking weaker export volumes to subdued global market conditions.

January data signalled further marginal jobs growth in the Vietnamese manufacturing sector. Payroll numbers have now increased in each of the past four months, generally in response to the recent modest upturn in production volumes. Spare capacity remained, however, leading to a further reduction in backlogs of work.

January saw a solid increase in average input prices, a marked turnaround from the marginal reduction signaled in the previous month. Higher purchase prices were linked to increased costs of raw materials and transportation. There were also reports of higher prices paid for imported goods, materials and services.

Faltering demand and strong competition continued to erode the pricing power of Vietnamese manufacturers. Output prices fell for the ninth month running. The rate of decline eased sharply, however, as a number of companies passed on higher raw material costs to their clients.

Vietnamese manufacturers maintained a preference for leaner inventory holdings during January. This was highlighted by further depletion of both raw materials and finished goods stocks. The decline in inventories of finished products was the steepest in the 22-month series history.

Purchasing activity was raised for the second time in the past three months during January, partly to reduce the pressure on input stocks. The recent increases in input buying are in contrast to the marked declines signaled during the middle of last year.

Commenting on the Vietnam Manufacturing PMI survey, Trinh Nguyen, Asia Economist at HSBC said: "The expansion of the manufacturing sector in January points to a gradual recovery of the economy, although the process is still quite a bumpy one. Improved domestic demand lifted the output level while external demand remains sluggish, primarily dragged down by weak growth from the EU. The significant rise of input prices, however, poses a risk to the sector as it raises costs for producers."

"We expect the recovery of the economy to continue into 2013, supporting higher growth this year than the previous year, although the economy will still be below trend as it undergoes a restructure. Inflation is a concern as it is trending up due to an unfavourable base effect, the Chinese recovery and an increase in domestic demand," she said.

The HSBC Vietnam Manufacturing PMI is based on data compiled from monthly replies to questionnaires sent to purchasing executives from around 400 manufacturing companies.

Sales turn up at supermarkets
With about 10 days before the beginning of the Tet (Lunar New Year) holiday, the usual hustle and bustle associated with the period is missing at traditional markets in HCM City.

Tran Thi Kiem Hoa of Tan Dinh Market's Management Board said "The number of people visiting markets had increased in recent days, but purchasing power remained low."

The situation has been the same at Ba Chieu and Thi Nghe markets, where Tet goods are abundant and prices are stable.

Nguyen Tan Phat, a representative of the Ba Chieu Market's Management Board, said that sales volume had fallen by more than 50 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Anticipating low sales this Tet, traders had stockpiled a smaller amount of goods this year, he said.

Sales of fresh foods like meat, seafood, fruits, and vegetables have been as normal, said traders at Thi Nghe Market.

Only stalls selling dried items such as bamboo shoots, vermicelli, rice, sugar and green bean have reported higher sales compared to non-holiday periods.

Lan, who runs a dried-foodstuff stall at Thi Nghe Market, said that purchaes rose significantly this week, but much less than at the same time last year.

"Last year, besides one regular shop assistant, I also had to get my sister to help me, but not this year," she said.

Traders at traditional markets said purchasing power at traditional markets had fallen yearly since consumers were shifting to supermarkets and convenience stores due to better services, stable prices and year-round promotions.

They said they hoped that sales would surge next week, or from the 25th day of December on the lunar calendar.

Several supermarkets in HCM City report that the number of shoppers recently had risen sharply compared to normal days.

Huynh Thi Ngoc Tram, in charge of public relations for the Big C supermarket chain in the

southern region, said purchasing power had increased strongly from last weekend as residents prepared for Tet.

Dried foods, confectionery items and Tet gifts, especially those priced under VND100,000 and between VND300,000 and VND600,000, were among the bestsellers, she said, adding that demand for fresh food was expected to increase next week.

Other supermarkets like Vinatex, Maximark and Lotte Mart have also reported more customers in the last few days. With abundant supplies this year, prices are not expected to fluctuate much, according to many supermarkets.

Supermarkets have also launched many promotions to stimulate demand.

Co.opmart supermarkets, for example, is offering discounts of up to 49 per cent on 2,000 products, including essential items, housewares, electronic appliances and fashion items until February 9 (Lunar New Year Eve).

It had also increased the supply of goods by fourfold to meet customer demand.

Similarly, the Big C supermarket chain is offering discounts of 5-50 per cent on 800 items, including dried and fresh food, housewares and clothes from now to February 9.

Starting from February 3, it will increase the number of cashiers and extended trading hours to better serve customers.

Other supermarkets such as Lotte Mart and Vinatex are also offering promotions.

As of today, Vissan Limited Company, which is active in the processing and trading of fresh and frozen meat, has completed preparation of goods for Tet, with an increase of 15 per cent over the previous year's Tet.

The company said it would ensure that there would be no shortage of meat for Tet, and that prices would remain stable until after the holiday.

Outstanding firms win quality awards

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has decided to award prizes to 67 outstanding businesses in recognition of their excellent production, business operation and service quality in 2012.

The PM will award 17 of the businesses with gold prizes. The celebrated companies range from small to large-sized producers and service providers.

Another 50 businesses will be presented with silver awards.

Through competing for these National Quality Prizes, enterprises can learn and improve their style of management and the quality of their products.

The prize also offers opportunities for winners to promote their trademark and improve their competitive capacity as Viet Nam's economic integration continues.

Last year the awards were presented to 96 enterprises, of which 11 won gold.

Network allows researchers to go global

The Viet Nam Research and Education Network (VinaREN) has emerged as an information superhighway, allowing the local research - training community to connect with over 50 million colleagues all over the world.

More than 100 agencies in all 63 provinces and cities in the country, including research institutes, universities, hospitals and departments of science and technology, have linked up with VinaREN, which was set up in 2004.

Besides sharing scientific information with their international counterparts, Vietnamese scientists and researchers were also now able to access many global databases, according to the director of the National Agency for Science and Information Technology under the Ministry of Science and Technology, Ta Ba Hung,

The international upgrade of VinaREN line from 155 Mbps to 622 Mbps had helped boost the stability of internal and global connections, he added.

In 2012, VinaREN helped a number of major domestic hospitals to organise video conferences to share treatment experiences and new techniques with foreign counterparts.

It also served the transmission of hydro-meteorological data from abroad to the National Centre for Hydro-meteorological Forecasting.

Foreign ownership remains at 15% in Sacombank

The State Securities Commission has agreed to extend the application of 15 per cent foreign ownership in Sacombank (STB).

Accordingly, the commission will approve a one year extension after the lender gathers opinions from its shareholders in April.

Currently, foreign investors hold just 5.91 per cent of Sacombank, so the 15 per cent limit would not affect its share price.

In May last year, the bank revised the room for foreign investors from 30 to 15 per cent.

SCG announces latest investment in Viet Nam

The Siam Cement Group said it had recently entered a conditional share purchase agreement with the Prime Group Joint Stock Company, a major manufacturer of ceramic tiles in Viet Nam.

Total investment will be US$234 million.

Under the agreement, SCG will acquire a 85 per cent stake in the company and help to increase SCG's competitiveness in Viet Nam and ASEAN.

In Q4/2012, SCG in Viet Nam recorded sales revenue of VND1.7 trillion ($83 million), a 15 per cent year-on-year increase, with increased demand for packaging paper.

SCG began its regional expansion with Viet Nam as its strategic hub in 1992. It has 17 operations in Viet Nam with more than $370 million in total assets. SCG's subsidiaries in Viet Nam include Viet-Thai Plastchem Co Ltd, TPC Vina Chemical and Plastic Corporation Co, Vina Kraft Paper Co, SCG Building Materials Co, Tien Phong Plastics Joint Stock Company and Binh Minh Plastics Joint Stock Company.

Masan buys beverage firm through subsidiary

Private sector company Masan Group (MSN) yesterday announced that its consumer goods arm - Masan Consumer - would purchase 24.9 per cent of bottled beverage company Vinh Hao.

On the back of the transaction, Masan Consumer plans to launch a cash tender offer process at similar commercial terms to increase its stake. The potential transaction and tender offer will be subject to customary corporate and regulatory approval.

Established in 1930, Vinh Hao was Viet Nam's first domestic mineral water producer. Its portfolio comprises of mineral water, purified water and mineral water based soft drinks. Masan Consumer is currently a market leader in sauces, instant noodles and instant coffee.

VPBS offers flexible interest rates to traders

VPBank Securities Company (VPSC) has begun offering flexible interest rates for a portfolio of 240 securities firms eligible for margin trading.

The lowest annual rate may come down to 13.8 per cent for the top 50 blue chip securities. The lowest rate for the next 100 in terms of liquidity will be 15.5 per cent, while the remaining 90 will be charged 17.5 per cent.

Staring from early this month, this securities house will lower trading fees to 0.15 per cent for all customers until the end of July.-

HCM Securities tops brokerage market share

The HCM Securities Company (HSC) topped the list of securities firms in terms of brokerage market share on the HCM City Stock Exchange in 2012 with 11.77 per cent, the exchange announced.

Saigon Securities Inc (SSI) ranked second with a 9.97 per cent while third position was occupied by ACBS with 7.92 per cent.

Also in the top ten were MayBank King Eng, Viet Capital Securities, Viet Dragon Securities, Military Bank Securities, VNDirect Securities, FPT Securities and Phuong Nam Securities Co, with market shares ranging from 5.21 to 3.18 per cent.

In term of bonds, Vietcombank Securities led the way with almost 29.3 per cent, followed by SSI with almost 17.9 per cent and Bao Viet Securities with 13.39 per cent.-

VN exhibition to help open regional doors

The biennial Food & Hotel Viet Nam 2013 exhibition in April will present the country as an "Asian Gateway" to international firms, organisers say.

The exhibition will be held at the Sai Gon Exhibition & Convention Centre from April 24-26 by Singapore Exhibition Services in collaboration with VCCI Exhibition Service Co.

Over 380 firms from 30 countries and territories will present latest products and innovative solutions for the food and hospitality industry on an area of 8,880sq.m.-

RON 83 gasoline may be removed from market

The Ministry of Industry and Trade will consider a road-map for suspending the import, production and circulation of low-octane unleaded gasoline RON 83 without negatively impacting domestic companies.

The Ministry has also been requested to co-ordinate with local authorities to inspect the import, production, sale and circulation of the petrol grade.

The use of RON 83 gasoline is currently very limited in domestic markets, making up just 9 per cent of total fuel in the market over the past four years.

Dunkin' doughnuts comes to Viet Nam

Dunkin' Brands Group Inc has signed a deal to take its eponymous doughnut chain to Viet Nam as the company continues its push to expand internationally, reported Wall Street Journal.

The Massachussetts-based company has signed a franchise agreement with Viet Nam Food and Beverage Co to develop Dunkin' Donuts restaurants across the country over the next several years, with the first locations planned for the HCM City area.

"We are excited to partner with Viet Nam Food and Beverage Co Ltd, which has a deep knowledge of the Vietnamese consumer, to open the first Dunkin' Donuts restaurants in Viet Nam," said Giorgio Minardi, president of Dunkin' Brands International.-

Province has 21 gold bar trading points

The central province of Quang Nam now has 21 points that are permitted to trade gold bars, according to a provincial branch of the State Bank of Viet Nam (SBV).

These points belong to DongA Bank, Sacombank, Eximbank, OCB, Techcombank, MaritimeBank and ACB.-

Shrimp export up five-fold in Bac Lieu

In the first month of the year, seafood enterprises processed more than 6,000 tonnes of shrimp for export, a huge increase from last year.

As a result, the exports earn the province US$20 million in revenue, twice the amount earned during the same period last year.

Traders now purchase tiger prawns at prices between VND240,000-280,000 ($11.5-13.4) per kilo of 20 prawns, VND160,000-180,000 ($7.7-8.6) per kilo of 30 and VND150,000 ($7.2) per kilo of 40, up VND10,000-20,000 ($0.48-0.96) against last week.

Meanwhile, prices of white-legged shrimp are also on the rise, now sold at VND130,000 ($6.25), VND116,000 ($5.58) and VND110,000 ($5.29) per kilo of 40, 50 and 60 pieces respectively.

However, the supply is running short due to the shrimp crop coming to an end, according to local farmers.

Cooking gas prices down on world decrease

Due to falling world gas prices, Sai Gon Petro Gas is likely to lower the cooking gas retail price by VND1,083 per kilo.

They will now sell their products at VND409,000 (US$19.6) per every 12-kg cannister.

Ha Noi Petrolimex Gas has not officially announced a new price yet, but a company representative told Vneconomy that they will cut prices VND12,000-13,000 ($0.57-0.63) per 12-kg cannister.

This is the second consecutive downward adjustment of gas prices in just over a month. In January the price was cut by VND7,000 ($0.34).

Asparagus a bonanza crop for poor farmers
Growing asparagus has become a path out of poverty for poor farmers in Son Thanh village in the central province of Nghe An.

Asparagus has grown in popularity with the Vietnamese people due to its taste and high nutrition, with some claiming that eating the vegetable is beneficial to the heart and to sufferers of gout, diabetes and other ailments.

Nguyen Khac The, president of the Son Tay Co-operative in Tam Hop Commune in the mountainous district of Quy Hop, said households in the village were now able to earn about VND200,000 (nearly US$10) per day harvesting asparagus on about 500sq.m of land.

"Working seven days in the field, a household could earn as much in one crop as if they grew rice," The said, noting that asparagus can be harvested seven months a year.

The perennial plant was not easy to grow, requiring special care from soil preparation to watering and fertilising, The admitted The plants' development occurred mainly during the night, so they cannot be watered after 5pm and must be given only organic fertiliser. The crop must be harvested before 8am or the quality of the produce would be affected.

But the soil conditions and the climate in the area were suited to asparagus cultivation, and the plant has strong roots which help the stout stems develop quickly, he said. The overall life cycle of the asparagus plant is seven to eight years, but harvesting can begin in the sixth month after seeding.

The initial investment for a crop on 500sq.m of land was an estimated VND16 million ($760), a sizable sum for a household in Son Thanh, The said. Yet, after a year of trial, the participating farmers have been very happy with the result.

Not only have farmers had no difficulties finding a market for their crop, The said that his co-operative had already signed a contract with the Ha Hiep Co to buy all the asparagus its members can produce.

Ha Hiep director Nguyen Cong Hoang said he had given financial support to Son Thanh farmers from the beginning and readily signed contracts to buy their produce.

"This is a lot room for asparagus growing to expand in Nghe An Province," said Hoang, who added that his company was currently able to provide the market only about one tonne of asparagus per day against a demand of 30 tonnes.

"We want to secure an outlet for these farmers," said Hoang, adding that his company had plans to help farmers expand growing areas to 20-30ha in the years to come.

Ho Duc Thong, a member of the co-operative, said his family was very happy with the asparagus as the crops had been more profitable for him and his family.

"We can harvest about 4-5 kg of asparagus per day and sell it for about VND50,000 per kilo," Thong said. "So from the 500sq.m of asparagus, we can earn VND350-400 million ($17,000-19,000) a year – 4.5 times what we earned growing tomatoes."

Nguyen Thanh Tam, head of the agricultural extension department in Quy Hop District, promised to provide technical support to farmers in their effort to expand asparagus-growing acreage, voicing confidence that the crop would help lift farmers in Nghe An out of poverty.

National agriculture centre sets sights on profit, sustainability

The National Agriculture Extension Centre has mapped out a series of measures to raise farmers' incomes and create a sustainable agricultural sector.

These goals are part of a plan to improve the efficiency of agricultural extension activities this year, according to the centre's director Phan Huy Thong.

The centre will disseminate more information to farmers about advanced technology, sustainable production and value chains.

Developing new rural areas and restructuring the agricultural sector will also receive attention.

Under the plan, training methods for farmers will include more drilling sessions as well as online television and website guidance.

The plan will strengthen cooperation between extension centres, management agencies, project leaders and implementation units to ensure they do the work in a timely manner, Thong said.

He said that the center will focus more on transferring advanced technology to farmers to raises quality, productivity, production efficiency and farmers' incomes, as well as increase the competitiveness of Vietnamese agro-forestry and fisheries products.

Thong said that all of the 90 extension projects in the 2011-14 period had been implemented with success.

Improvements had been seen in agricultural production, including F1 rice hybrids, safe vegetables and fruit cultivated under GAP standards.

The development of a national cattle herd as well as water-bird breeding under bio-safe methods were two other areas that had also seen success.

Last year, the Government set aside about VND550 billion (US$26.3 million) for agricultural extension programmes nation-wide, which is considered low compared to other countries in the region.

Kon Tum commune meets targets

Ha Mon has become the first commune in Kon Tum Province as well as the Tay Nguyen (Central Highlands) region to achieve all 19 targets set in the government's New Rural Area Programme.

Despite being chosen for the 2008 programme only around two years ago, the commune in Dac Ha District has fulfilled all criteria, which are related to transportation, irrigation, housing, environmental protection, and others, according to the province's programme steering committee.

The commune, which has 1,165 families, 87 per cent of them belonging to minorities, does not have a single poor household or dilapidated house now.

Its per capita income rose to VND38 million (US$1,800) last year, three times the province's rural average. Seventy per cent of the households officially became "wealthy."

All its roads are asphalted; each of its nine villages has a culture house.

Dao Anh Thu, secretary of the commune Party Committee, attributed the achievement to the participation of all residents, officials, and organisations in the programme.

"People are aware that the programme is meant for their benefit," he said.

The commune has raised more than VND80 billion ($3.8 million) from the government, local administration, businesses, and local residents for building infrastructure.

Locals have pitched in with land and more money than they were expected to contribute for implementing the programme.

Nguyen Duy Thuan of Thong Nhat Village, for instance, contributed VND10 million for building the village culture house though the commune only asked him for VND600,000. Vu Xuan Cau of Thong Nhat donated 1,200sq.m of land to build a market.

The commune, Kon Tum's major coffee cultivation area, has more than 2,000ha under coffee besides hundreds of hectares of rubber and other cash crops.

Ha Mon is one of 22 communes that Kon Tum Province selected for the programme, which was piloted from 2008 and officially adopted in 2010.



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