VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS JUNE 14

Portal expected to reach large lychee consumers

VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS JUNE 14

An online portal has been launched to help farmers in pandemic-hit Bac Giang province sell their lychees.

“Thank God, it’s so effective,” vice director of Bac Giang Enterprise Consulting and Assistance Centre (BECA) Duong Thanh Son said about the portal launched by the centre. Bac Giang has been hit hardest by COVID-19 during its fourth wave in Vietnam, causing difficulties for local farmers.

The portal www.hotrotieuthuvaithieubacgiang.com was launched about three weeks ago and a Facebook page hotrotieuthuvaithieubacgiang was created just a few days later when Bac Giang started entering the lychee harvest season.

Consumers can register to buy a large volume of lychees – a minimum of a tonne – after inputting basic information like name, e-mail, phone number, address and amount of lychee.

Son, who specialises in information technology and communication, said that the portal looked simple but behind it were automatic customer management and customer care programmes that help with online sales.

The portal and the Facebook page have reached hundreds of thousands of users, Son said, adding that he has received positive feedback on social media.

“We connect Bac Giang lychee farmers and co-operatives with buyers. We pledge that our consumers can buy high-quality lychee at very good prices,” Son said.

“If we had thought of the portal earlier and prepared for it about three months ago when lychee was still green, we could have reached more consumers,” Son said.

He said the idea for the portal came up when Bac Giang farmers entered lychee harvest time but the province was struggling to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the province has about 28,100 ha of lychee with an estimated production of 180,000 tonnes. The COVID-19 outbreaks caused difficulties for harvesting, transporting, selling and exporting the fruit.

Together with the Government, provincial authorities, organisations and individuals, BECA helped farmers in lychee consumption. All BECA staff, mostly IT and media personnel, have helped with online sales.

On the first day of launching the portal, Son said they received hundreds of messages asking to buy lychees. Orders for small amounts, for example a few kilos, were transferred to local retailers while BECA would concentrate on large orders, especially those from enterprises, which as Son said, had financial ability and willingness to buy large amounts.

Within the first week, BECA helped to sell nearly 140 tonnes of lychee.

“We have a goal to help farmers sell 1,000-1,800 tonnes of lychee. It’s a big goal, so we need help from associations, enterprises and businesses,” Son said.

Son is also looking for other potential consumers - community groups. He said, for example, the Duong community – sharing the family name Duong in Vietnam – was very large. Son received an order of 17 tonnes from the Duong community in HCM City, and they were set to order two more containers. The Duong communities in Binh Thuan and Binh Duong ordered two containers each.

Dinh Thi Anh from the northern province of Nam Dinh said that on seeing news about COVID-19 hotspots in Bac Giang province, she wanted to do something for people there, especially farmers who faced difficulties in selling lychee.

She said that she was very happy to find a reliable source that supplies Bac Giang lychees and she asked her friends to add their orders on hotrotieuthuvaithieubacgiang.com and then sell the fruit to people in Nam Dinh city.

All the funds raised would be donated to the national COVID-19 vaccine fund, Anh said.

Anh and dozens of volunteers on June 7 received the first shipment of lychee from Bac Giang and by the afternoon of the same day, they sold nearly a tonne of lychee at two stalls located at 757 Vu Huu Loi and 440 Tran Hung Dao in Nam Dinh city.

“We unloaded the lychees, weighed and divided them into bags of 2kg, received orders and then delivered them to consumers or sold them at the stalls,” Anh said, adding that people not only bought lychee but also donated to the fund.

“We will be with Bac Giang! We can not do big things, so we offer a little help,” Anh said.

Son said that he deeply understood the hardships that local farmers faced as well as the importance of lychee fruit – a source of pride for people in Bac Giang.

They are more proud of the fruit, as now, lychee is grown with VietGAP and GlobalGAP standards. The farming products are not only tasty but also safe. For years, Bac Giang lychee has been exported to 30 countries all over the world including demanding markets like the US, EU and Japan. In the domestic market, the fruit is sold in major supermarket chains.

Son said that since the beginning of harvest time, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, Bac Giang lychee could reach consumers both in and outside of the country.

Bac Giang authorities were determined to minimise the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on lychee harvesting and consumption.

Particularly, the authorities set up COVID-19-free lychee growing areas, meaning that in lychee growing areas, all people suspected to have close contact with confirmed COVID-19 cases are taken to concentrated quarantine areas and none of such areas are located in lychee growing areas.

Checkpoints have been set up to strictly control and monitor people and vehicles entering the lychee growing areas. All drivers, workers and traders arriving in lychee growing areas must take quick COVID-19 tests.

All vehicles carrying lychee must be disinfected.

Tran Quang Tan, director of the province’s Trade and Industry Department, said that lychee farmers would feel hurt if they hear their fruit needed rescuing.

The province’s authorities called for support, not rescue. To some extent, when it comes to “farming product rescue campaigns”, people tend to think about abundant, cheap, low-quality products.

“Bac Giang lychee does not need rescuing,” Son said, adding that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, since the beginning of harvest time, the lychee consumption was still going on.

“Difficulties? Yes, we face a lot of difficulties due to the COVID-19 pandemic and we need your support to overcome them. Bac Giang will overcome all such difficulties,” Son said.

“Bac Giang people are now proud to offer tasty lychee at reasonable prices. As the consumption goes smoothly, both farmers and consumers are happy for the benefits they get,” Son said.

The lychee harvest time in Bac Giang province will last about one and a half months. The province reported more than 70,000 tonnes were sold, meaning that more than 100,000 tonnes of Bac Giang lychee still needs to be sold. This year, lychee prices are similar to those of last year, ranging from 13,000 VND to 30,000 VND per kilo ($0.5-1.3)./.

VN-Index heading toward 1,400 points this week on bullish sentiment: analysts

Even though the stock market fell last week, analysts from securities firms said that investors’ bullish sentiment can continue to support the benchmark VN-Index reaching 1,400 points this week.

The VN-Index on the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HoSE) closed last week at 1,351.74 points, recovering on the back of large-cap stocks. But for the week, the index still lost 0.5 per cent.

On the Ha Noi Stock Exchange (HNX), the HNX-Index rose 1.72 per cent last Friday to 316.69 points. The index, however, slightly declined by 0.6 per cent for the week.

After plummeting due to strong profit-taking activities earlier last week, the market rebounded later in the week as risk appetite increased.

The market also received support from the improvement of the overload order problems and the comeback of foreign investors after net selling for eight consecutive sessions.

Analysts from MB Securities Corporation (MBS) said that the market was showing investors’ optimism. The positive sentiment would continue throughout this week, helping the market in the race to the 1,400 point-level.

On the technical front, MBS thought that the strong recovery of the market in late sessions last week ended the correction period around 1,300 points, creating momentum for the market to enter a new rising wave.

“With the current strong rally, we think the market can head to the target of 1,400 points in the coming sessions,” MBS said.

SSI Securities Corporation (SSI) also expressed optimism. “The VN-Index followed a positive scenario once there was confirmation about the recoveries of large-cap stocks, as well as the even spread of cash inflows,” SSI said.

“Therefore, there is the possibility that the VN-Index will continue to reach higher in the near future and head toward the target zone of 1,400 points.”

According to BOS Securities Corporation (BOS), technically, the market benchmark breached the resistance level of 1,350 points on strong demand, along with weaker selling pressure. This made some technical indicators reverse and showed positive signs in the short term.

However, cash flow warned about the possibility of weaker demand in some coming sessions. The VN-Index is likely to maintain its rally and head back to its previous peak of 1,370 points this week.

“Nevertheless, selling pressure is expected to increase during rallies, making the market face some more fluctuations,” BOS added.

Meanwhile, Saigon - Hanoi Securities JSC (SHS) said that the market corrected after five straight weekly gains, but last week’s market liquidity remained at a high level with an average of nearly VND31.3 trillion (US$1.36 billion) per session on both bourses, which showed relatively strong selling pressure.

SHS forecast that the market might see some corrections when selling pressure rises at the current level.

As the market corrected last week, most pillar stocks edged down. Of which, gas and oil stocks fell the most in market capitalisation, down 5.7 per cent. PetroViet Nam Coating JSC (PVCoating, PVB), PetroVietnam Oil Corporation (OIL), PetroVietnam Drilling & Well Services Corporation (PVD), Binh Son Refining and Petrochemical Company Limited (BSR) and PetroVietnam Technical Services Corporation (PVS) all posted losses of more than 5 per cent in market cap.

They were followed by utilities and banking sectors, down 4.3 per cent and 3.8 per cent, respectively.

Foreign investors were still net sellers last week as they net sold a value of VND730 billion (US$32 million). But this amount was lower than that of the week before, which was nearly VND6.2 trillion (US$267.8 million).

Finance ministry inspectorate to check out ailing HCM City stock exchange

The Ministry of Finance’s Chief Inspector has signed a decision to inspect the Ho Chi Minh Stock Exchange (HoSE) after its failure to resolve the chronic overload of its trading system.

The decision follows an order from Minister of Finance Ho Duc Phoc for an immediate inspection.

The inspection delegation will work out a work plan depending on the COVID-19 situation in the city.

Nguyen Hoang Hai, deputy chairman of the Viet Nam Association of Financial Investors, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) online, that the overload left investors unable to trade securities.

The problem began last year and has steadily worsened, weakening investors’ trust and causing them losses, he added.

According to evn.express.net, the system has been unstable for months, with orders simply frozen or executed very slowly, and stock prices are not displayed, forcing investors to take needless risks.

The worst happened on June 1, when there were excessive volumes and trading value topped VND21.7 trillion ($935.3 million) in just the morning session. The system sounded a warning, and HoSE was forced to suspend trading in the afternoon to prevent possible problems.

From June 2, it refused to allow traders to cancel or modify orders to prevent the system from overloading.

Leading brokerages have to date reallowed the use of the features though some are still enforcing limits during peak trading hours.

Businesses in Ho Chi Minh City wallowing in lack of capital and high production costs

Due to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, most businesses in Ho Chi Minh City face a shortage of capital while production costs are increasing. 

“The pandemic situation in the area is still complicated,” Nguyen Thanh Phong, Chairman of Ho Chi Minh City People's Committee, said in the meeting between the committee, the city's leaders, experts, and businesses.

Regarding business activities, since the beginning of the year, 1,365 businesses have reported difficulties due to the pandemic, more than 42,500 workers lost their jobs or stopped working, 410 businesses needed loans to pay wages to workers, and 2,274 enterprises completed dissolution procedures.

The chairman expects the business community and people in the area to join the government to overcome this difficulty. He stated that, currently, Ho Chi Minh City has to spend about VND7 billion ($304,350) a day on testing. The city's goal is to vaccinate its entire population.

“It is very difficult to access vaccines now because supply still cannot meet the demand," Nguyen Van Nen, Secretary of Ho Chi Minh City Committee said and urged people who know of guaranteed vaccine supply to contact the city. 

Meanwhile, Le Thi Huynh Mai, director of Ho Chi Minh City Department of Planning and Investment, said that in the first five months, more than 6,400 businesses resumed operations.

However, the business community is facing difficulties, with the number of enterprises registering for dissolution increasing by 5 per cent over the same period last year (2,458 enterprises) and the number of enterprises temporarily suspending operation increasing nearly 24 per cent with more than 9,800 enterprises.

There are five common difficulties that businesses are facing, including a decrease in the labour force involved in production, incurring expenses for the prevention of COVID-19, employees having their work hours cut or forced to quit, disruptions in access to customers and supply chains, and lack of raw materials for production.

Chu Tien Dung, head of the Ho Chi Minh City Union of Business Associations (HUBA), expressed concerns, saying that more businesses withdrew from the market in the first two quarters than those entering.

A quick online survey of over 100 businesses by HUBA showed that over 84 per cent of small- and medium-sized enterprises have been facing difficulties since the fourth outbreak of COVID-19. Accordingly, 40 per cent of respondents claimed to have had difficulties from a lack of capital, 80 per cent from market disruptions, 52 per cent from downsizing employment, 14 from interruptions to raw material supply chains, and more than 50 per cent suffered from social distancing measures. 

Although some enterprises in key industries have quickly reconnected the source of raw materials and re-adjusted their operations, they are facing the biggest pressure from the lack of capital and the rising price of raw materials, raising manufacturing costs and reducing competitiveness.

Many businesses want to restructure, apply new technologies, or digitally transform to promote online shopping, but lack capital for it.

"The first support packages for businesses and employees were timely but the implementation has not had a clear impact on businesses. Some policies such as tax exemption, social insurance reduction have helped businesses reduce difficulties in terms of liquidity and cash flow, but the application time is short and the number of these packages is not large, so it cannot help businesses overcome their difficulties," said Dung.

Textile and garment companies struggle in fourth Covid-19 wave

Most textile and garment companies in the country have received large orders for the second half of the year but the fourth Covid-19 wave is threatening to hinder production.

According to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, textile and garment orders increased significantly after the Covid-19 pandemic was brought under control in the United States, the European Union and Japan, some of Vietnam’s main importers of textile and garment products.

The manufacturing index of the textile and garment sector in May 2021 rose 2.2% from the previous month and 10% compared with the same period last year. From January to May, the index grew 8.1% year-on-year.

The country exported over US$12 billion of textile and garment products in the first five months of the year, increasing 15% year-on-year.

However, textile and garment companies are struggling with disruptions caused by the ongoing fourth Covid-19 wave, which began on April 27.

Vu Duc Giang, chairman of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association, said at least 45 textile and garment companies had to suspend their operations over the past two weeks. They are facing a number of problems including rising costs, salary payments to maintain the staff and compensation for customers in case of late shipments.

“If a textile and garment company has to shut down for 14-21 days, its production plan for the entire year may be ruined,” he said.

Le Tien Truong, chairman of the Vietnam National Textile and Garment Group (Vinatex), said even if textile and garment companies remain operational, they may not be able to maintain their workforce as workers staying in areas under lockdown or social distancing are not allowed to travel to the workplace. This can cause a loss of billions of dollars and affect the reputation of the Vietnamese textile and garment sector.

Nguyen Xuan Duong, chairman of the board of Hung Yen Garment Corporation, said the Government should accelerate Covid-19 vaccination for workers of industrial parks and export processing zones, especially in current hotspots such as Bac Ninh, Bac Giang, HCMC and Hanoi. These hotspots are also home to many industrial parks and export processing zones.

Enterprises under Vinatex said they are willing to use their own money to vaccinate their workers against Covid-19. The cost is estimated at VND100-200 billion.

“We hope the Covid-19 vaccination will be prioritized for workers in the textile and garment sector so that we can stabilize our production in the coming time,” Duong said.

Local firms boost processed mango exports to U.S.

Due to difficulties in exporting Vietnam's fresh mangoes, many firms have invested in processing to boost the consumption of processed mangoes in foreign markets, mainly the United States.

In the first three months of the year, Vietnam was the United States’ 13th largest mango supplier, according to the Import-Export Department under the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

During the three-month period, the U.S. increased its import of dried mangoes and mango juice from Vietnam. Vietnam shipped 97 tons of mango juice worth US$102,600 to the American market, skyrocketing by 340% in volume and 160.5% in value year-on-year. The country’s export of dried mangoes to the United States reached 68 tons worth US$83,000.

Despite the modest volume, fostering the export of processed products is a growth trend for Vietnamese mango, said many firms.

Nguyen Dinh Tung, general director of Vina T&T Group, told the Saigon Times that the export of fresh fruits, including mango, had faced multiple difficulties due to high transport costs and the prolonged transportation time, while fresh fruits also have a short shelf life. Besides, many countries have erected technical barriers to fresh fruits to protect local products and customers, he said.

Taking the U.S. market as an example, he said that in the past, it took 20-23 days to ship goods by sea from Vietnam to the market, but now, the transport time is 30-35 days. Meanwhile, Vietnam’s preservation technology keeps mangoes fresh for a mere 30 days.

“Sometimes, the fresh mangoes arrived in the U.S. market, but reached the expiration date and were not sold to customers,” Tung said.

Dang Phuc Nguyen, general secretary of the Vietnam Fruit and Vegetables Association, said that since 2020, when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, many fruit exporters have sought ways to adapt to the new market situation.

Due to high transport costs and the shortage of containers, many firms which specialize in exporting fresh products have shifted to processed products for shipments.

“Processed mangoes have a longer shelf life than fresh ones and do not face severe competition from the products of other countries,” Nguyen said.

Statistics indicated that in 2020, Vietnam shipped some US$800 million worth of processed vegetables and fruits to the United States, accounting for 25% of the total value of veggie and fruit exports, while the proportion was 10%-15% in 2019.

In addition, Europe and other countries are raising their consumption of Vietnam’s processed fruit, mainly dried mangoes and mango juice, urging many local exporters to upgrade and improve their machines and technology and expand production to ramp up the capacity of processing fruits and meet demands.

“This year, Vietnam’s export of processed fruits, including mangoes, is expected to soar by 30% against last year,” said Nguyen.

Vietnam shipped an estimated US$400 million of vegetables and fruits to foreign countries in May, up 48.3% year-on-year, sending the country’s export value of these products in the first five months of the year to US$1.77 billion, up 18% year-on-year.

In 2020, Vietnam exported 2,100 tons of mangoes worth US$4.6 million to America, up 66% in volume and 70% in value against 2019, while the latter bought 1,150 tons of frozen mangoes from Vietnam, up 38% from the 2019 figure.

Unsecured debts require regulation

Unsecured loan sales may see growth accelerated in response to a Vietnamese government ban on debt collection services – however, experts believed a clearer legal framework and firmer rules would help spur a more substantial unsecured debts market.  

VietinBank has just announced an auction to sell consumer loans to recover debts – the very first commercial bank exploring this option.

The package of nine debts includes small loans, valued from VND1.68 million ($73) to VND17.58 million ($770). The consumer loans are unsecured and the starting selling prices are equal to their book value. The total value of nine debts is around VND75.5 million ($3,300).

The bank will select the buyer with the highest bid that is at least equal to the starting price of each debt. The starting price does not include any costs regarding to fee for ownership transfer and other costs, if any, when purchasing the debt.

These costs shall be solely borne by the auction winner. The down payment is also equal to the starting price of the debt.

“Loan sales are not a new phenomenon. Collateral-backed loans are quite common as a part of banks’ asset and liability management,” said Truong Thanh Duc, director of ANVI Law Firm. “They often sell loan packages with collateral such as real estate, machinery, equipment, factories, and cars, among others, while unsecured consumer loans sales are among the first of its kind for a commercial bank.”

A representative of VietinBank said that selling consumer loans is one of the bank’s normal operations, according to regulations, to handle and recover debts.

“Perhaps this is the first time that a commercial bank has offered unsecured loans sales to the public, so it attracts a tonne of attention. We will continue follow our precedent cases on debt sales. At the first stage, we set the initial price equal to book value. If these debts cannot be sold, we would lower the price later on,” the representative said.

Duc of ANVI said that it is not just “a walk in the park” to sell consumer loans at a book value, coupled with interest and late payment penalty interest. Banks can only sell loans at a price equal to 50-70 per cent of their book value even for collateral-backed ones.

The question of whether or not VietinBank could successfully execute their sales still remains unanswered, but it could set a precedent for other lenders to follow suit.

Financial expert Huynh Trung Minh noted that in other countries, trading unsecured debts is familiar to financial institutions and debt buyers, and consumer debts are important for buyers to expand their customers’ database and information.

According to Vietnam’s revised Law on Investment, debt-collecting businesses are now banned in Vietnam as part of local government action to protect customers’ rights.

However, this is considered a strict approach to consumer finance companies, since the majority of their customers are underbanked or unbanked.

Currently, there are nearly 20 consumer finance companies operating in the country. In the last 10 years, FE Credit has emerged as the top player, accounting for around 52 per cent of market share, far ahead of the rivals Home Credit (17 per cent) and HD Saison (11 per cent).

 

Masataka “Sam” Yoshida, head of the Cross-border Division of RECOF Corporation and CEO of RECOF Vietnam said, “Putting a stop to the operation of debt collectors poses challenges to lenders or creditors where their collection performance will be affected. Consumer finance companies need to make changes to meet these evolving regulatory requirements. This will be inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive at first but creates an opportunity for the consumer finance companies to rethink their collections strategies and operations.”

On the other hand, Duc of ANVI shared his concern that it would be tough to take advantage of unsecured debts. Therefore, he hypothesised that the sale of the debts is just another approach to dodge the debt collection service ban. Duc also stated most debt collectors, after the Law on Investment took effect, have not dissolved, but instead converted their business to debt trading/buying to be legally in line with the current law.

If banks can sell their unsecured loans, it is likely that they will transfer their debts to ensure operational efficiency. Furthermore, driving forces behind loan sales may stem from a better cashflow statement and financial information to the public.

“We might also see an increasing trend of selling or trading the debts from those who are not strong enough in debt collection. Debt sales can be an effective tool for certain accounts, especially those with low expected recoveries. However, it might be better implemented if policies and procedures for debt sales could have clearer guidance from the government,” Yoshida of RECOF added.

Investors pointing to upbeat momentum

Vietnam’s generally effective control of the health crisis and improvement of the investment and business climate have further strengthened the confidence of investors in the country.
 
After spending months studying the investment climate of over 20 cities and provinces and more than 30 industrial zones in Vietnam, innovative solar module manufacturer JinkoSolar has decided to pour $500 million into a venture in the north-eastern province of Quang Ninh’s Song Khoai Industrial Zone. The factory, licensed in late March, is expected to become operational this year. Nguyen Duc Tiep, deputy head of Quang Ninh Investment Promotion Agency, told VIR that JinkoSolar is speeding ahead with the project. “Besides JinkoSolar, it is expected that Quang Ninh will see more foreign direct investment (FDI) in the time to come,” Tiep said.

Over the next few weeks, the province will hold an online investment promotion conference to attract more Japanese funding. The event is expected to be joined by 40-50 Japanese companies, mostly operating in manufacturing and processing.

Currently, the province is instructing 10 foreign investors to complete dossiers, which are expected to be licensed this year with the total registered capital of $576 million, including some big projects involving liquefied natural gas warehousing ($200 million), refrigerator equipment ($90 million), and environmental protection ($160 million).

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI), Quang Ninh is a typical example among many localities as good destinations for FDI in Vietnam, where the business and investment climate is significantly improving.

Despite causing grave consequences worldwide, COVID-19 has as yet been unable to prevent FDI inflows to Vietnam for the long term, and rising manufacturing, with both being major drivers of Vietnam’s economic growth this year and beyond.

For 2021 up to May 20, the total of newly-registered, added capital, and capital contributions as well as share purchases hit $14 billion, up 0.8 per cent on-year. Notably, the newly-registered capital hit $8.83 billion, up 18.6 per cent on-year, and the added capital reached $3.86 billion, up 11.7 per cent on-year.

FDI disbursement hit $7.15 billion, up 6.7 per cent on-year, thanks to production and business recovery.

The MPI said many major foreign-invested enterprises (FIEs) are expanding in Vietnam, which is again restricting COVID-19 to only a handful of already locked-down areas.

For example, CEVA Logistics (Vietnam) under global logistics and supply chain company CEVA Logistics is now boosting recruitment of more employees for many positions. Under the business plan of CEVA Logistics Vietnam, the firm is expanding its network to ship goods to the US, which was Vietnam’s largest export market, with total turnover of $ 37.6 billion in the first five months of 2021, up 49.8 per cent on-year.

“In Vietnam, the company’s total revenue in the first quarter from freight shipping increased about 30 per cent on-year,” Nguyen Thanh Van, head of Contract Logistics at CEVA Vietnam, told VIR. “It is expected that the rate will be about 20-35 per cent for the entire year.”

According to the General Statistics Office, businesses such as CEVA have contributed greatly to the country’s goods transportation which hit 739 million tonnes in the first five months of 2021, up 10.5 per cent as compared to the same period last year, when the rate declined 8 per cent on-year. Also in the first five months, Vietnam’s total export-import turnover is estimated to hit $262.2 billion, including $130.94 billion from exports – up 30.7 per cent on-year, and $131.3 billion from imports - up 36.4 per cent on-year.

A World Business Outlook Survey conducted released two weeks ago by the German Chambers of Commerce Abroad said that German businesses are showing optimism about Vietnam’s economy.

“Vietnam is still one of the countries with the fastest economic growth in Southeast Asia,” said the report. “German business leaders in Vietnam maintain a positive view with the economic expectation as well as with their situation in Vietnam and they look forward to a recovered year of 2021 and 2022.”

According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), in the first five months of this year, the economy’s index for industrial production (IIP) climbed 9.9 per cent as compared to that of only 1 per cent in the same period last year. Notably the manufacturing and processing sector, which creates 80 per cent of the nation’s industrial growth, ascended 12.6 per cent in comparision with that of merely 2.2 per cent in the corresponding period of 2020.

The IIP in May expanded 11.6 per cent over the same period last year, when the IIP declined 3.1 per cent on-year.

The GSO also reported that, in the first five months of 2021, the economy witnessed 55,800 enterprises newly established, registered at VND778.3 trillion ($33.84 billion) and employing 412,400 new labourers, up 15.4 per cent in the number of enterprises and 39.5 per cent in registered capital.

If another VND975.1 trillion ($42.4 billion) registered by 19,100 operational enteprises was included, the total capital supplemented into the economy in the period was VND1.753 quadrillion ($76.2 billion), up 27.5 per cent on-year. Moreover, 22,600 businesses resumed their operations, up 3.9 per cent on-year. Source: General Statistics Office

Virus-hit provinces seek continuation of production

The people of the two northern provinces of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh are demonstrating their mettle in the fight against recent coronavirus outbreaks, retaining production to protect supply chains as much as possible. 

Deputy Minister of Health Nguyen Truong Son reviewed vaccine distribution in Bac Giang province
Under the strict and timely direction of Deputy Prime Minister Le Van Thanh and the leaders of the provincial people’s committees, last week factories in industrial zones (IZs) of Bac Giang and Bac Ninh resumed their production lines, while employees moved back to work and live in factories.

Amishh Rajnikant Jaitha, CEO of Spica Elastic Vietnam Co., Ltd. in Bac Ninh’s Que Vo IZ, said that the interruption recently has caused a lot of challenges to its 45 partners, especially some key ones that have 8,000-12,000 workers. “My company is operating four factories and four offices in separate places. We have asked office staff to work from home, and office areas will be accommodation for other workers. We have bought a lot of beds, and built some more bathrooms for them to live,” Jaitha said.

Dang Thi Kien Chung, head of Planning for ITM Semiconductor Vietnam in Vietnam-Singapore Industrial Park (VSIP) said, “That is the best solution to keep employees safe and resume factory operations. Safety is the goal that all of us should pay attention to, in order to confirm our responsibilities to society.”

A representative of Wisol Hanoi, also in VSIP said, “Instead of buying beds, we provided individual tents to make some privacy for workers. At living areas there are services such as wi-fi, air conditioners and purifier, clothes extractor, and the toilets have become bathrooms. They are also fed meals each day,” she said.

Bui Hoang Mai, director of the Bac Ninh Industrial Zones Management Authority said over 500 businesses resumed last week after careful preparation. “The board has established 40 delegations to check and guide factories and facilities to ensure safety. If enterprises are stuck or face some difficulties, they can report to us or the provincial government to ask for some help and resume operations as soon as possible.”

As of June 3, there were 951 positive COVID-19 cases in Bac Ninh, including almost 250 cases at businesses. Over 35,700 vaccines were administered for local people, and 90,000 workers in IZs are expected to be vaccinated this week.

In a meeting last week with Deputy Prime Minister Le Van Thanh, Chairwoman of Bac Ninh People’s Committee Nguyen Huong Giang proposed the government to provide an additional 500,000 antigen rapid tests, and support businesses hit by the pandemic with policies such as tax exemption or extension. She also proposed the state budget to provide around $21.7 million to the province to promptly prevent the pandemic from damaging the area further.

Before resuming operations, businesses have to meet all regulations on preventing and fighting against COVID-19 like negative tests and safe distancing in the factories; as well as setting up accommodation areas for employees. Bac Ninh and Bac Giang authorities continue to closely work with the delegations of the Ministry of Health to manage the pandemic before allowing businesses back into operation.

As of the end of June 4, there were 2,819 cases in Bac Giang positive with COVID-19, including about 380 cases in Van Trung IZ and 1,700 cases in Quang Chau IZ.

Cooperation plans still on hold amid railway system revamp

While state-owned giant Vietnam Railways’ new restructuring plan is expected to leverage private investment in the ailing railway industry, the track to prosperity remains steep.

The Commission for the Management of State Capital at Enterprises last week worked with Vietnam Railways (VNR) on separation of some parts in the long-awaited 2021-2025 restructuring plan to be approved first, with the establishment of a passenger transport and cargo transport units being a focus.

Vu Anh Minh, chairman of VNR – the operator of the country’s railway network – told VIR, “We will keep the merger of Haraco and Saratrans, the two largest train operators in Vietnam, under VNR and then proceed with the establishment. The submission of the separation to the prime minister for approval is expected within June.”

VNR expected that it will be able to attract private investment for its development plans when the separation is approved. Thus, in the establishment of a cargo transport company, stakes are being planned to sell for potential investors.

The separation also includes investment in construction of warehouses and inland container depots (ICDs); upgrading and development of railway stations into trade centres and offices for lease in line with the Law on Railways 2017; and upgrading of railway routes connecting with China to develop international railway transportation.

“When the separation and restructuring plan is approved, the new changes will enable the company’s partnership with private firms in hundreds of stations and ICDs to more effectively tap into their available potential, thus enabling us to move faster,” Minh noted.

Industry insiders, however, said that it is impossible that there will be any significant foreign interest in railways, although transport is one of the six sectors covered in the Law on Public-Private Partnership Investment, which took effect from January.

Railways have proven difficult for the public-private partnership (PPP) model in many countries worldwide, with Vietnam being not an exception. More opportunities might come for domestic private firms instead. To enable this, the master scheme in line with implementation of Decree No.46/2018/ND-CP governing the management and use of railway infrastructure assets, should be approved, with VNR’s proposal to hand over 297 railway stations, warehouses, and ICDs to the giant to own, use, and develop with assets to be recorded as state capital contribution to the operator to be included.

However, the master scheme remains at odds with the VNR proposal, and so no final conclusion has yet been made. Legal barriers have so far hindered VNR from making the next steps with its cooperation plans with its partners, and many of its projects as well as investors have been suffering as a result.

In 2017, VNR signed a cooperation agreement with Saigon Newport Corporation to develop ICDs and warehouses at Song Than, Dieu Tri, Yen Vien, Dong Anh, and Dong Dang stations, with the plan to develop more in the future to meet demands. However, the projects have not yet been carried out.

Similarly, Lotte E&C’s proposal to invest in the second phase of the upgrading of the Yen Vien-Lao Cai railway route has been on paper for years, while Japanese auto giant Toyota is seeking to build a railway route connecting its factory in the northern province of Vinh Phuc to the main North-South network, using the Danang railway station as a transhipment hub to other provinces in the central region.

Furthermore, Southern Airports Services JSC has sought a partnership with VNR in upgrading the Saigon Railway Station building. Many other initiatives remain stuck because of Decree 46.

In 2017 when the restructuring plan of VNR was first submitted to authorised agencies, the giant planned for the restructuring by 2020, but inevitable disagreements and legal issues have dragged the proposals into the 2021-2025 period instead.

The separation of the railway network is important at this time as the new restructuring plan is still waiting for completion of a new order that replaces 2017’s Decision No.707/QD-TTg on approving the restructuring of state-owned enterprises. At present, the draft master plan on restructuring of such enterprises for 2021-2025 is still being completed by the Ministry of Finance.

In the last 10 years, the railway sector has failed to mobilise resources for its development plans. State funding for railways, despite an increase, was just $174-196 million annually over the period, which has been mostly used for maintenance works and social security, and not for development plans.

IFC promotes Vietnam’s PPE production capacity for COVID-19 fight

As the significant shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) in many countries has impacted the containment of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past 18 months, IFC is supporting PPE manufacturers in developing nations including Vietnam to supply reliable and quality PPE products to protect frontline health workers and reduce community transmission.

Given the unprecedented pandemic, the global demand for high-quality PPE products – face masks, medical gloves, safety glasses and shoes, respirators, coveralls, vests, and full bodysuits – increased three to four times between 2019 and 2020, according to a recent study funded by the United Kingdom Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO).

In Vietnam, PPE manufacturing capacity surged with a 6-fold jump in production in 2020 and the country has emerged as one of the new PPE suppliers globally. This ramped-up supply was initially driven by textile manufacturers shifting production in response to the health emergency and to mitigate losses caused by cancelled orders for garments.

“Some textile manufacturers who started producing PPE products as an immediate response to the pandemic, are now considering the medium- to longer-term business opportunity in this area,” said Vu Duc Giang, chairman of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (VITAS). “However, local manufacturers have struggled with insufficient input materials, technical skills, and sector knowledge, and disparity between local and international standards to access the global market.”

In response, as part of the global PPE advisory programme supported by the UK government, the IFC is working with local garment manufacturers through the VITAS and national labs through the Directorate for Standards, Metrology and Quality of Vietnam (STAMEQ). The aim is to improve PPE producers’ operations and reduce costs by removing unnecessary burdens related to PPE standards and conformity assessments.

A kick-off webinar – PPE Supply and Demand Perspectives – was organised today in Hanoi in collaboration with VITAS. This is the first of a series to boost PPE-related industry knowledge, with a focus on technical requirements and standards for PPE products in different markets.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has tested the resilience of supply chains to the limit, especially on medical supplies including PPE. The UK believes that the diversification of PPE manufacturing will make the global supply chain more adaptable and prevent future disruption,” said Gareth Ward, British Ambassador to Vietnam. “I am very pleased that Vietnam has been chosen as a priority country for this UK government-funded programme. Vietnamese companies have a lot of potential to succeed globally with a skilled labour force.”

Over the next 18 months, the project will also support select manufacturers to scale quality PPE production, access reliable supply of materials and equipment, and achieve PPE international standards and certification to expand exports.

“Access to cost-effective and quality PPE products is vital to national COVID-19 responses, helping contain and manage the spread of the coronavirus,” said Kyle Kelhofer, country manager for Vietnam, Cambodia and Lao PDR. “Promoting the production of PPE products in compliance with international standards not only helps increase Vietnam’s resilience to the pandemic but also presents a business case as the PPE global supply chain is diversifying with opportunities for new manufacturers from emerging markets including Vietnam.”

In January 2021, the IFC and the UK government launched a global PPE advisory programme to increase the supply of COVID-related PPE products to developing countries – as part of the IFC’s COVID-19 response and under the IFC’s Global Health Platform. The IFC’s platform was launched in July 2020 and includes up to $4 billion financing to increase access to critical healthcare services and products to fight the pandemic in the developing world.

Foreign investors from South Korea continue ramping up investment in Dong Nai

Investors from South Korea are looking to increase investment in Dong Nai in the midst of the global health crisis. 

According to Dong Nai Department of Planning and Investment, South Korean investors have injected an additional $500 million into the locality, increasing the total investment capital from $6.5 billion in 2019 to $7 billion in May 2021. South Korea topped the list of 45 countries and territories investing in Dong Nai.

South Korean Consul General in Ho Chi Minh City Kang Myong-il said that many South Korean companies wanted to expand investment in the province. However, their projects have been suspended due to travel restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Once the pandemic is controlled and trade flows between two countries return to normal, a new wave of South Korean investment is expected to flow into Dong Nai. South Korean investors highly appreciated Dong Nai’s potential in the field of industrial production, technical infrastructure, and real estate sector.

Some South Korean investors have made big investment in the province including Changshin’s $100 million footwear factory in Tan Phu Industrial Zone (IZ), Hansol Technics’s $100 million electronic component factory in Ho Nai IZ and Intops’ $30 million electronic equipment factory in Amata.

The representative of Hansol Technics said that the company decided to develop its factory in Dong Nai due to the province’s developed IZs and convenient traffic. The company specialises in manufacturing electronic components so the investment in Dong Nai will facilitate it to source input products from other partners.

Park Hyun Bae, chairman of the Korean Business Association in Dong Nai is upbeat about the potential of Dong Nai to lure foreign direct investment (FDI) capital in the industrial, energy, service, trade, and supporting industries. Despite the pandemic, many Korean businesses have requested information about Dong Nai. They hope that when the COVID-19 pandemic is contained, it will be easier for them to travel to the province to register new investment. Indeed, South Korean investors are looking to rent big ​​land sites in Dong Nai to carry out large projects to produce electronic components, fabrics for the textile, footwear, as well as machinery and equipment.

As of present, South Korea is the second-largest import market of Dong Nai, following China. The province mainly buys materials to produce textile, apparel, footwear, computers, electronic components, equipment, tools, and spare parts. On average, local companies spend $200 million importing materials from South Korea.

Obstacles hindering O Mon III venture

The O Mon III thermal power plant in the Mekong Delta city of Can Tho is facing lingering issues related to investment policy and responsibility, leading to the protracted delay in part of the gas project. 

Electricity of Vietnam (EVN) recently proposed to the prime minister an investment plan for the O Mon III thermal power plant in a bid to remove the bottlenecks for the Block B gas complex.

After the Law on Public Investment took effect in 2020, the Ministry of Planning and Investment (MPI) proposed to the prime minister to apply the provisions of the law to appraise and decide on the investment policy for the O Mon III. Meanwhile, the ministry proposed amendment and supplement of Decision No.1015/QD-TTg dated August 2019 on the establishment of a state appraisal council to appraise the project’s feasibility study. However, some obstacles have emerged during the implementation of investment policies, especially the authority to approve investment policies.

The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT), the MPI, the National Steering Committee for Power Development, and the Commission for the Management of State Capital at Enterprises (CMSC) have submitted many reports to the government to tackle difficulties in the investment procedures for the project.

Last December the government submitted a report to the National Assembly Standing Committee on this issue. According to its conclusion, the use of official development assistance (ODA) loans for enterprises to borrow 100 per cent for the O Mon III is not within the scope of the Law on Public Investment as well as under the prime minister’s authority to approve investment policies. It has been nearly two years since EVN submitted the project to the CMSC to request for investment policy. However, the authority to approve the investment policy for this project has not been determined.

The O Mon III was approved by the government to be on the list of ODA projects funded by the Japanese government in 2012. EVN was the investor of the project and signed the ODA loan contract with the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA). In 2013, Vietnam and Japan signed a commitment note to grant the first loan worth $254 billion for the O Mon III. The JICA loan agreement would be signed by the parties following the result of negotiation and signing of a gas purchase and sale contract.

Foreign investors have often raised their voices about the obstacles hindering the Block B gas project. In 2015, US oil giant Chevron decided to withdraw from the project by transferring stakes to PetroVietnam.

In July 2020, Japan’s Mitsui Oil Exploration Co., Ltd. (MOECO) and Thailand’s PTT Exploration and Production Public Co., Ltd. (PTTEP) also submitted letters to the prime minister about their concerns for the slow approval of the onshore power project, which has caused tremendous challenges for the Block B gas project chain and delayed the final investment decision (FID). Thus, the target of the first gas flow by the end of 2023 will be missed.

Two months later the foreign investors sent another letter to the prime minister noting that the first gas for the project is expected in September 2024 at the earliest. Due to the delayed approval of investment policy, the investors could not make the FID in 2020 while the first gas flow by the end of 2023 became infeasible.

EVN said the delayed approval of the investment policy is due to the inability to identify the agency responsible for this project, which slows down the progress and efficiency of the project chain. Meanwhile, the wellhead gas price has been calculated since 2016 with the price slippage of 2.5 per cent per year and the transportation price slippage of 2 per cent a year, which has raised investment and electric production costs.

Commenting on the conditions for borrowing ODA loans from JICA, EVN said that the plan has better economic efficiency than the commercial loan plan. In addition, the Japanese government has confirmed to continue to provide ODA loans for the O Mon III. However, to make efficient use of the loans, it needs to establish the authority to approve investment policy for the project. Up to now, the project is still waiting for the amended decree to be approved for implementation.

To issue the amended decree, it is necessary to get feedback from relevant ministries and sectors. It will take a great deal of time, even though FID needs to be made this October.

EVN has formulated a plan to use domestic and foreign commercial loans to remove bottlenecks at the O Mon III. With this plan, the power generation progress of the project will take place in the third quarter of 2026, 18 months earlier than the plan of using the ODA loan. However, the biggest obstacle for the new plan is the increase in the total investment, mainly due to the loan interest.

On May 7, the Government Office issued a document announcing the opinion of Deputy Prime Minister Pham Binh Minh, assigning the CMSC to cooperate with the MoIT and relevant agencies to handle EVN’s proposal and report it to the prime minister soon.

In 2018, when calculating the O Mon III and IV projects using gas fuel, EVN proposed the electricity selling price of VND2,355 (10 US cents) per kWh and a maximum of about VND2,840 (12 US cents) per kWh to ensure efficient financing of these projects.

The Block B gas pipelines are being implemented by Phu Quoc Petroleum Operating Company (PQPOC) and South West Pipeline Operating Company (SWPOC), along with PTTEP and MOECO. The approval of O Mon III is the premise to finish commercial negotiations and select the engineering, procurement, and construction (EPC) contractor.

The bidding packages will expire in bid validity in October, and investors expect the investment policy to be issued by August to open commercial bidding packages. If delays continue, PQPOC could have to extend the EPC bidding validity for the fifth time for contractors. In the worst scenario, PQPOC would have to reorganise the international bidding, which would likely delay the whole project for more than a year.

Inflation reined in as materials prices rise through year

Despite a big rise in the prices of construction materials and fuel, a 5-year low in the consumer price index caused by weak demand in the first five months of 2021 is signalling a successful control of inflation. 

Dang Duc Anh, vice director of the National Centre for Socio-Economic Information and Forecast, told VIR that in spite of some recovery in production in the economy causing a climb in the prices of many items in the market, the government may still keep the inflation target at about 4 per cent this year.

“Weak demand at home and in the global market are generally there. In the first five months, prices have increased, but not too strongly. COVID-19 has led to tightened spending,” Anh said.

According to the General Statistics Office (GSO), in the first five months of 2021, the average 5-month consumer price index expanded 1.29 per cent on-year, the lowest ascension in the period since 2016 (see chart).

Vietnam is using prices of 11 groups of items to measure the inflation rate in the country. In the period, the average price of the groups rose by about over 1 per cent on-year. Notably in the group of housing and materials, in which the average price rose 4.42 per cent on-year, the steel price has augmented strongly.

The Vietnam Steel Association was cited by the Ministry of Planning and Investment’s Department of Industrial Economy as reporting that due to a rise in input material prices in the global market, the domestic price of steel products has also climbed strongly. In May the average steel billet price hovered at VND14,000 (60 US cents) per kg, up 30 per cent against that in early last December.

The price of construction steel in Vietnam in early May increased in parallel with the rise in steel material price. For example, the price of iron ores on May 5 was around $190 per tonne at China’s Tianjin Port, up by about $50 per tonne or up 25-39 per cent as compared to that in early December. This has caused a big rise in the price of the domestic steel market in the first quarter and the beginning of the second quarter.

“The price of materials is likely to highly increase,” said department director Le Tuan Anh.

In the same vein, the price of oil globally has also increased. By late last week, oil prices rose by more than 3 per cent on renewed optimism about global demand as global vaccinations continue.

Goldman Sachs is expecting the price of global crude oil to rise to $80 per barrel by the end of the year. “The case for higher oil prices therefore remains intact given the large vaccine-driven increase in demand in the face of inelastic supply,” Goldman analysts said.

So far this year, the number of enterprises halting operations was 59,800, up 23 per cent on-year. On average, each month has seen nearly 12,000 enterprises withdraw. This has also reduced demand for goods in the market.

Global analysts FocusEconomics told VIR in a statement that price pressures in Vietnam this year are expected to ease slightly compared to 2020 amid a projected appreciation of the VND, with panelists seeing inflation average well below the government’s estimate of 4 per cent.

“FocusEconomics Consensus Forecast panelists expect inflation to average 2.9 per cent in 2021. For 2022, the panel projects inflation to average 3.6 per cent,” read the FocusEconomics statement.

Vietnam to shortern quarantine period for fully-vaccinated people

Vietnam is mulling to reduce the quarantine period for vaccinated foreign experts and Vietnamese people stranded overseas to seven days. 

At a meeting yesterday, the Standing National Steering Committee for COVID-19 Prevention and Control has requested the Ministry of Health (MoH) to complete the process and technology system for immigration management.

Specifcailly, the MoH is urgently completing the process of receiving experts and Vietnamese people to Vietnam. The ministry is developing a closed management process from the time of immigration registration to concentrated quarantine and medical monitoring at home.

It is expected that people entering Vietnam will be classified into different groups. Vaccinated people are subject to various coronavirus tests to confirm the effectiveness of vaccination. The main reason is that at present vaccines are 70-90 per cent effective. If they test negative, the quarantine period will be shortened to seven days.

The committee expected that the COVID-19 pandemic will be contained by June but there are still some sporadic cases in the community. It will not be easy to achieve herd immunity soon given vaccination efforts in Vietnam and many countries around the world. Therefore, the forces should always be alert to prevent and fight the epidemic.

Relaxing quarantine rules for fully vaccinated business people and foreign experts will help ensure the investment and trade flow between Vietnam and the world.

According to the Ministry of Labour, Invalids, and Social Affairs, there are nearly 8,500 highly-skilled foreign workers on a priority list to enter Vietnam. They involve some 2,000 employees of key national projects that use new technologies.

Live streaming in Vietnam growing more popular for agricultural business

Farmers across the country have picked up live-streaming to boost sales amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. 

By partnering up with e-commerce sites like Shopee and Sendo, farmers in the northern province of Bac Giang have started live streaming on the platforms to promote their lychee products and improve their earnings.

“With live streaming, millions of customers can keep track of how we harvest lychee,” said a farmer. “We received many orders after each live stream.”

Regarding the activities, Nguyen Dac Viet Dung, chairman of Sendo said, “As the pandemic is growing more serious, we hope to aid farmers to efficiently approach new technologies such as live streaming to form a firmer foundation for the agricultural sector.”

A representative of Shopee also said that the Shopee Farm programme is expected to help farmers to shift to online business models to take advantage of e-commerce like other vendors selling clothes and cosmetics.

Indeed, live streaming for agriculture is an inevitable trend in Vietnam, said Nguyen Hoa Binh, chairman of Nextech Group which operates live streaming skill training institution NextOn.

“Before Vietnam, China was very successful in adopting the live streaming model for agricultural businesses,” said Binh. “Many trends in China also take root in Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia in 2-3 three years.”

A prime example for the success of agriculture in e-commerce is Hubei, a Chinese province, where farmers began to sell their produce online with live streaming to overcome the health crisis. As a result, over the first quarter of 2020, revenue from online sales in the province saw an on-year growth of 184 per cent with hundreds of millions of RMBs.

In the 1.4-billion population market of China, live streaming is a core part of online sales and has become a skill most retailers in the country demand from their staff members.

In particular, in last May, the country’s Ministry of Labour and Social Security listed retail live streaming as one of the top 10 new sectors generated by Industry 4.0.

As of the end of 2020, China had about 600 million people purchasing goods after watching live streams, and 250 million vendors (16 per cent of the country’s population) have adopted the business.

As the pandemic grew more serious last year, live streaming has became a lifebuoy for all corners of Chinese society. Leaders of local authorities, billionaire Jack Ma, small- and medium-sized enterprises, and even farmers use live-streaming services. 

Source: VNA/VNS/VOV/VIR/SGT/Nhan Dan/Hanoitimes

VIETNAM BUSINESS NEWS JUNE 11

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