Merkel eyes trade deals in Vietnam, Mongolia
Fresh from a crisis meeting with France on the euro, German Chancellor Angela Merkel was due to embark Monday on a visit to Vietnam and Mongolia hoping to push deals on trade and precious raw materials.
Ahead of the four-day visit, Merkel, who will be accompanied by top business leaders eyeing up investment opportunities, stressed the need to boost ties between the two fast-growing Asian nations and Europe’s top economy.
“Vietnam is an emerging country in Asia, has enjoyed fast-paced economic growth in recent years and is increasingly becoming a competitor for large nations like China,” Merkel said in her regular podcast over the weekend.
Nevertheless, Merkel insisted she would not shy away from tackling what Berlin sees as a “deficit” in Vietnam’s human rights record.
Economic cooperation “is of course tied to complying with human rights. And I will of course raise such questions when I am there,” Merkel said.
The European Union has frequently chided Vietnam for its record of upholding freedom of expression and in August called for the release of a French-Vietnamese blogger, who is an EU citizen.
Merkel noted that Germany and Vietnam have long enjoyed close relations, stemming from the days before the fall of the Berlin Wall, when young Vietnamese came to study or work in the former communist east.
After Vietnam, Merkel heads to Mongolia for the first visit by a German leader since the two countries established diplomatic relations, with media speculating that deals worth $2 billion could be inked.
“Mongolia is a country very rich in raw materials and we have a very, very good chance to improve our cooperation in this field,” Merkel said.
German firms have said they are keen to conclude agreements on rare earths in Mongolia.
Rare earth elements are a collection of 17 substances that are not in fact rare but which are rarely found in quantities that make mining economically advantageous.
They are nonetheless critical for the manufacturing of items like iPods, low-emission cars, wind turbines and missiles.
At a crunch meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy late on Sunday, Merkel pledged to do what what necessary to recapitalise European banks as the two leaders vowed to come up with a “long-lasting” solution to the euro crisis.
Merkel was due to leave mid-afternoon from Berlin, arriving in Hanoi late in the evening, local time.
Vietnam banks need more capital: Fitch
A ratings agency on Monday welcomed efforts by Vietnamese banks to beef up their capital buffers but said lenders may have to do more to shield themselves from losses amid the country’s economic troubles.
Fitch Ratings said Vietnam’s lenders are thinly-capitalised compared with their regional peers, although credit growth has eased this year and banks have received capital injections.
“Banks in general continue to target rapid growth in a country where credit reached 120 percent of GDP at end-2010, high by emerging market standards,” Mikho Irawady, of Fitch in Singapore, said in a statement.
“This exposes the banks to sharp deterioration in asset quality should the already difficult operating environment take a turn for the worse.”
Fitch said a greater buffer was needed to protect banks from potential losses, and allow for future expansion.
In the latest equity boost to a Vietnamese bank, Japan’s Mizuho Corporate Bank said on September 30 that it would buy a 15 percent stake in Vietnam’s largest bank by market capitalisation, the Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank).
Several other overseas financial institutions hold strategic stakes in Vietnamese banks.
Analysts have expressed concern the amount of bad loans held by Vietnamese banks is higher than officially reported, and that the country’s struggling smaller financial institutions should be consolidated.
Long focused on growth, Vietnam in February shifted its attention to stabilising an economy beset by double-digit consumer price rises, dwindling foreign reserves and a weakening currency.
Measures included raising key interest rates, vowing to cut state spending, and ordering that growth in credit stays below 20 percent.
Rice prices hit record high in 3 years
Domestic rice prices early this month have soared to record high in the past three years but farmers have no stockpile left to enjoy the whopping profits, the Saigon Times reported.
Rice traders in the Mekong Delta said prices this week had continued to soar by VND350 a kg compared with last week.
They said dry IR 50404 rice fetched VND7,350 (US$0.35) a kg, the highest ever since 2009.
Analysts said domestic rice prices had surged along with the Thai government’s buying rice from local farmers at high rates since last Friday.
Tien Giang-based Hiep Loi Food Co attributed the rice price hike to the falling domestic supply against the increased demand from rice exporters.
But farmers do not benefit much from this increase since they have already sold out their stockpiles.
“Had I known price would shoot up to this high, I would not have sold my rice so early,” Tran Van Hung of Dong Thap Province, said regretfully.
Other farmers in Tien Giang, Long An and Vinh Long Provinces also said traders had failed to find any supply since most farmers had emptied their stockpiles.
Nguyen Thanh Hon, a trader in Long An, said even supply from neighboring country Cambodia had been used up.
“I have managed to buy only 15 tons during the past three days.”
Nguyen Thi Anh, director of Tien Giang-based Tan Tai III Co, predicted that prices would continue to soar towards the end of this year thanks to pressure from Thai price hikes and the increased export demand.
Saigon Railways offers huge discount on train tickets
Passengers can book tickets directly on the railway website www.vetau.com.vn and pay for tickets at branches or ATM booths of the Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade.
On the SPT1 and SPT2 trains between Saigon and Phan Thiet there is a 90 percent discount.
All promotional discount fares are applicable on tickets from October 15 onwards until the end of December.
In related news, the national flag carrier Vietnam Airlines plans to add more flights to meet the travel demand during the next Tet holiday season, within the next few months.
Accordingly, from 1st January to 12th February 2012, an extra 846 flights with 155,600 seat capacity will be added on seven of the busiest routes to meet the Tet holiday rush.
Nationwide campaign to vote for Ha Long Bay as world’s natural wonder
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has announced that so far they have received about 700,000 votes supporting Ha Long Bay as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, via text messages.
A promotional campaign has been launched in many universities and colleges in cities and provinces throughout the country. Activities highlighting the spectacular beauty of Ha Long Bay are being held in Vinh University, Nghe An University, Hue Science University, Da Lat Yersin University, Ho Chi Minh City Polytechnic University, Hanoi Tourism College and some universities in Hai Phong.
All Vietnamese citizens are being encouraged to send text messages to phone number 147 to vote for the world heritage site. The cost of an SMS is only VND630. Time is running out and the more votes collected for Ha Long Bay, the better.
According to information on website www.new7wonders.com, the Seven Natural Wonders of the World will be announced on 11th November this year.
Vietnamese citizens as well as foreign visitors can go on website www.new7wonders.com to vote for Ha Long Bay. For further information, pls call phone number 033.3847481 or visit http://www.halongbay.com.vn.
Ministry wants fund to back SMEs
The Ministry of Planning and Investment’s Enterprises Development Department is planning to submit a proposal to the Prime Minister to create a small-medium-sized enterprises development fund.
The plan has been written according to the spirit of Decree No 56/2009/ND-CP issued by the Prime Minister in 2009.
The Decree outlines policies and support from the State for SMEs.
If the plan is approved, the fund would likely begin its lending activities for SMEs next year.
Under the plan, preferential loans would be equivalent to 70 per cent of total investment capital of projects. However, total value would not exceed VND30 billion.
Terms of loans would be fixed in a way that is appropriate to borrowers’payment ability and project conditions, but they would not be beyond seven years.
Interest rates on loans from the fund would not exceed 80 per cent of the rates of ordinary loans being applied by commercial banks.
The fund’s capital is expected to be raised from the State Budget about VND500 billion (US$24 million) for each of the first two years of its operation, and VND1 trillion ($48 million) for the third year.
It also aims to attract legal financial sources from overseas individuals and organisations including Official Development Assistance (ODA), and capital sources entrusted by domestic and overseas individuals and organisations to support the development of SMEs.
SMEs that can access preferential loans from the fund would have projects or development programmes involved in industries that are given investment priorities by the Government.
The loans would help them develop production and trading activities and improve competitive ability.
Le Quoc Khanh, director of the Nam Ha Joint Stock Company, said the establishment of the SME development fund was good news for SMEs since many of them were facing difficulties, particularly in capital shortage.
As for policy, the Government always encourages banks to support SMEs.
However, the latter now applies a common interest rate level so most banks give credit priority to major enterprises.
Major enterprises need large amounts of capital and little is left over to lend to smaller companies, according to senior economic expert Pham Chi Lan.
MPI’s Enterprises Development Department, citing study results, said that a SME development fund was necessary as SMEs were facing many capital-related problems.
The submitted proposal includes results from a survey of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA), which showed that 80 per cent of SMEs did not receive credit support.
Although the Credit Guarantee Fund at many localities was set up in 2002 only a few SMEs have had access to this financial source.
High lending interest rates and difficult lending conditions are the biggest obstacles that have prevented SMEs from bank loans, while most SMEs expect to have easier access to loans from credit organisations.
A representative of the Enterprises Development Fund said that if the SME Development Fund was established, it would create an additional financial channel for SMEs in addition to current traditional sources.
The fund would also be a State-owned, large-scale financial institution designated in ways to ensure that it can gather financial sources to support SMEs at home and abroad in line with the laws.
Flood of smuggling hits Mekong Delta
Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta flood season sees a peak in the smuggling in of goods from Cambodia, with thousands of boats plying day and night to sneak in all kinds of goods.
The most popular are mobile phones, tablet computers, electronic goods, tobacco, wine and clothes.
Most houses along a 5km road in Chau Doc District in An Giang Province to the border Vinh Nguon Commune have a board saying “giu xe, dua doAn iPhone 3 costs VND1.1 million ($55), a Nokia N8 costs VND1.3 million ($57), a Vertu costs VND1.5 million ($75), and an iPad costs VND2.3 million ($115).
Nghia, who has a mobile-phone shop in Kien Giang Province, said: “These iPhones both look good and are cheap. We sell them at double or triple the price.”
He pays boat-owners VND15,000 ($0.75) to smuggle in a phone.
Besides smugglers, people looking to buy electronic goods also visit this market.
Nhat of Long Xuyen, the capital of An Giang Province, wanted to buy a high-fidelity sound system for his coffee shop.
He said: “The quality of high-fidelity sound systems sold here is good compared to other goods. Lots of people buy them.”
However, old products refurbished in Chau Doc are also taken to the market to be sold. Thus a “brand new” Sony TV costs a mere VND1 million.
An official at the An Giang Department of Customs said most of the smugglers’ boats and junks had high-power motors that could match official vessels for speed.
When pursued, the smugglers sometimes even cast net traps for customs boats, he added.
The General Administration of Customs said the smuggling in of goods from neighbouring countries had intensified in the third quarter.
Contradictory primary contraband items were tobacco, soft drinks, cosmetics, garments, food, livestock, and poultry, he added.
Many supermarkets lose their edge
Supermarkets must put the interests of consumers first if they were going to attract the loyalty of customers, said Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade Ho Thi Kim Thoa.
Consumers were still disappointed to find low-quality goods on supermarket shelves throughout the country, said Viet Nam Standard and Consumer Association vice president Nguyen Manh Hung. Quality, hygiene and safety were consumers’ biggest concerns that supermarkets should target, said Hung.
President of the Ha Noi Association of Supermarkets Vu Vinh Phu also said that supermarkets had yet to satisfy consumers with their services.
Healthier competition among supermarkets would help ensure the interests of consumers, boost service quality and promote development of a more diverse retail sector, Phu said, urging a national plan be drafted on retail distribution as a basis for the sector’s development.
Hoang Thanh, a shopper in Ha Noi, said foods such as fruit, vegetables, meat and fish were fresher at traditional markets than those sold at supermarkets, which were mainly frozen. It was also annoying to queue for a long time at check out, she said.
Thanh also said that she bought some products at a markdown and was disappointed with the quality. I would have rather paid a higher price and received something of quality, she said.
“It’s more convenient to shop outside since supermarkets have become more and more crowded,” Phuc said. It wasn’t worth to wait half-an-hour just to buy a kilo of fruit, she added.
There were about 400 supermarkets now operating nationwide, taking a 20-per-cent share of the retail market.
Japan’s ODA important for building infrastructure
Official Development Assistance from Japan had played an important role in infrastructure construction, poverty reduction and economic development of Viet Nam, said National Assembly Vice Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan.
She expressed thanks to the Government and people of Japan for continuing providing ODA for Viet Nam, focusing on infrastructure development, human resources training, environmental protection and coping with climate change.
Ngan made the statement while receiving Chairman of the Japan-Viet Nam Friendship Parliamentary Alliance Takebe Tsutomu on a visit to Viet Nam from October 7-11.
Ngan hoped that national assemblies and friendship parliamentary organisations of the two countries would continue increasing exchanges, co-operation and experience sharing for mutual understanding and benefits.
For his part, Tsutomu said the alliance would try its best to enhance the friendship with Viet Nam and wished that the younger generations of the two countries would increase exchanges and mutual understanding.
Small banks face problem in reaching profit targets
Many small banks may not reach their profit targets this year, while major banks’ profits are expected to be modest.
In the first eight months of the year, the Orient Joint-Stock Commercial Bank’s (OCB) pre-tax profit was VND225 billion (US$10.7 million), much lower than compared to its yearly target of VND500 billion ($23.8 million).
OCB general director Trinh Van Tuan said the bank would try to find more earnings from all of its activities to reach its goal by year-end.
The Gia Dinh Joint Stock Commercial Bank’s profit goal this year was VND380 billion ($18.2 million), said a representative of the bank.
But in order to do so, the bank would have to obtain credit growth to VND10.6 trillion ($509.6 million), nearly tripling last year’s figure of VND3.6 trillion ($173 million)
Meanwhile, the central bank has capped all banks’ credit growth at 20 per cent, and has asked them to keep loans for the non-production sector at under 16 per cent until the year-end.
Many big banks have also said that it would be difficult to reach profit targets this year ahead of schedule.
Dang Van Thanh, chairman of the Sai Gon Thuong Tin Joint Stock Commercial Bank (Sacombank), said by September 30 the parent bank’s pre-tax profit was estimated at VND 2.17 trillion ($104.3 million), while its yearly target was up to VND2.8 trillion ($134.6 million).
According to independent market watchdogs, in the first half of the year, pre-tax profits of many banks accounted for only 30 per cent of their yearly plans.
This means that the banks would have to make great efforts to fulfil their remaining profit targets for the rest of the year.
Meanwhile, the domestic market in the next months is expected to meet many difficulties, one of which is the possibility of high inflation at the year-end.
In addition, many enterprises do not want to borrow bank loans at this time while their production activities are stagnant. In addition, both foreign and domestic markets face many negative fluctuations.
The current lending interest rates at banks are high, compared with many companies’ payment abilities. This has made them unattractive to enterprises.
VN price for fragrant rice beats Thais
Export of fragrant rice has topped 369,000 tonnes in the year to date, a rise of more than 115 per cent year-on-year, according to the Viet Nam Food Association.
Pham Van Bay, VFA deputy chairman, said this was because Viet Nam’s prices were much less than Thailand’s. Thai fragrant rice is currently quoted at above $1,000 a tonne, while Vietnamese fragrant rice costs barely above $700.
However, the quality of Vietnamese fragrant rice is not much lower than that of Thai rice.
Due to the big difference in prices, many Thai rice exporters had bought Vietnamese fragrant rice to export to China under their own brand names, Bay said.
With its competitive prices and good quality, Vietnamese fragrant rice had gradually taken over from its Thai rivals in Hong Kong, a traditional Thai market, he said.
Many Thai businesses are coming to Viet Nam to explore investment opportunities in this area.
“Buying Vietnamese rice is an initial step. In the long term, I think they can co-operate with local companies or set up 100 per cent foreign companies here to invest in the entire chain from production and milling and export,” he said.
Local companies should prepare for that eventuality or else would encounter difficulties, he said.
Five Vietnamese win Ernst& Young Entrepeneur awardBao Viet Bank gets green light to increase charter
Bao Viet Holdings was approved by the Government to continue investing in its subsidiary Bao Viet Commercial Joint Stock Bank (Bao Viet Bank).
After raising the charter capital of the bank from VND1.5 trillion (US$72 million) to VND3.15 trillion ($151.4 million), Bao Viet Holdings will possess 52 per cent of the bank’s charter capital.
The capital raising process is scheduled to be completed by the end of this year.
Quang Binh seeks backing for 27 projects
The central province of Quang Binh will call for investment on its 27 projects when it attends the investment promotion conference for the north central region, to be held in the central province of Nghe An on October 17.
They include three residential area development projects, five commercial and tourism investment projects, 11 industrial projects, three industrial zone construction projects, one agricultural rubber-planting project, one education project and three others to construct a golf course, a hospital and an amusement park.
The province has not yet announced the detailed investment capital of each project.
Vung Ang oil storage has $72m turnover so far
The Vung Ang Petroleum and Oil Company which manages Vung Ang oil storage in the central coastal province of Ha Tinh announced on Sunday a turnover of VND1.5 trillion (US$72 million) in the first nine months of this year.
The oil storage facility, which mainly loaded products from Dung Quat refinery, is the major supplier of oil and gas for northern central provinces such as Nghe An, Ha Tinh and Quang Binh, as well as the Vung Ang economic zone.
PetroVietnam Oil Corporation (PV Oil), which owns the facility, is in the process of increasing its capacity from 60,000 to 110,000 cubic metres.
Seven cities, provinces to use petrol mix
Seven big cities and provinces — Ha Noi, HCM City, Hai Phong, Da Nang, Can Tho, Quang Ngai and Ba Ria-Vung Tau—will have to consume petrol E5 beginning in July 2013, according to a resolution being drafted by the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
The bio-fuel E5, a mix of 5 per cent ethanol and 95 per cent lead-free A92, will be used nationwide as of 2015.
Government bonds fail to find buyers
Only VND50 billion (US$2.4 million) worth of five-year Government bonds, out of a total issue of VND2 trillion ($96.6 million) in three-year and five-year paper, successfully found buyers in an auction last Thursday.
The yield was fixed at 12.15 per cent, slightly below bonds sold in the last auction.
Brokerages violate capital adequacy rules
Eleven securities companies have been cited by the State Securities Commission for violating financial adequacy requirements, after their liquidity ratios fell below 180 per cent.
The ratio for four of the violators fell below 120 per cent, said the head of the commission’s fund management division, Pham Hong Son, who noted that it was based on unverified figures supplied by the companies themselves.
Saigon Securities Inc leads in market share
Saigon Securities Inc (SSI) has become the leading brokerage by market share in the third quarter of this year, accounting for 15.81 per cent of overall market share and over 90 per cent of the bond market.
Tariff cuts likely on ASEAN cars
The Ministry of Finance is considering a draft schedule of tariff reductions for automobiles imported from ASEAN countries during 2012-14.
Under the draft schedule, an import tax rate of 70 per cent would be imposed in 2012 on all passenger cars that are completely-built-units (CBUs) imported from ASEAN states. The tax rate would be reduced to 60 per cent in 2013 and 50 per cent in 2014. Special vehicles such as ambulances would enjoy a zero tax rate while trucks would face a 5 per cent tax rate over the next three years.
Meanwhile, the tax rate for auto parts imported from ASEAN states would be zero per cent.
The schedule would also address import taxes imposed on motorbikes and mopeds, imposing a tax of 75 per cent in 2012, with the rate to fall to 60 per cent in 2013 and 50 per cent in 2014. All motorbikes with an engine capacity of 150-250 cc, as well as all-terrain vehicles, would be subject to a 5 per cent tax rate over the next three years.
The ministry has also been gathering opinions from relevant bodies concerning tariff rates for a number of other commodities imported from ASEAN nations, including condensed milk, yoghurt, raw cream, flour, fruit juice and vegetable oil – which would all tentatively face tax rates ranging from zero to 5 per cent.
Imports of coal, quartz and crude oil would be tax exempt, while the ministry has proposed a tax rate of 20 per cent for petrol (RON 97 and RON 90) and 5 per cent for diesel and other types of fuel.
An official of the General Department of Customs said that the schedule was being prepared pursuant to the ASEAN Trade in Goods Agreement (ATIGA) and World Trade Organisation (WTO) commitments. The ATIGA, which took effect in May 2010, requires ASEAN nations to completely remove taxes on imported goods from member states by 2015.
ATIGA is also based on provisions in the ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA), requiring all goods to have a zero tax rate by 2015.
Import tax rates during 2012-14 would be applied on goods imported from nine ASEAN countries, including Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Myanmar, Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand.
Investment opportunities for Bulgarian businesses
The event was held jointly by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) and the Bulgarian Small and Medium Enterprises Promotion Agency (BSMEPA).
Head of BSMEPA’s International Cooperation Department, Boriana Mintcheva, highlighted Bulgaria’s competitiveness and favourable geographical position in southeastern Europe, which can allow the country to expand to both southern and northern European markets.
She also affirmed her country’s incentive policies for promoting investment, especially in overseas markets. This is a good opportunity for Bulgarian businesses to invest in Vietnam and attract investment from the Southeast Asian nation.
At present, Bulgaria has more than 315,800 small and medium-sized businesses that are keen on the Vietnamese market.
Bulgaria exports machinery, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment while it imports a variety of Vietnamese agricultural products, including coffee, pepper and seafood.
Speaking at the event, Nguyen Hoa Cuong, Deputy Head of the Business Development Department under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, emphasized that Vietnam always creates a good business environment for foreign investors. It is now aiming to attract foreign direct investment (FDI) for infrastructure and training human resources.
During the forum, VCCI and BSMEPA signed a cooperation agreement, laying a foundation for the two countries’ businesses to tighten links in the future.
Vietnam becomes EU’s eighth largest textile provider
Vietnam is now the eighth largest supplier of garment and textile products to the European Union (EU), according to the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT).
The MoIT’s Industry and Trade Information Centre said textile and garment exports to the EU saw high growth in the past months, making up 18 percent of the sector’s total export revenue in the January-September period.
Eurostat statistics show Vietnam’s share in the EU textile and garment market has increased from 2 percent in May 2010 to 2.2 percent a year later.
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