BUSINESS IN BRIEF 10/1

Vietnam becomes world’s No1 pepper exporter

Vietnam shipped more than 134,000 tonnes of pepper for US$899 million abroad last year, making it the world’s biggest pepper exporter.

The Vietnam Pepper Association reports the 2013 figures represented a year-on-year increase of 15% in volume and over 13% in value.

Approximately 95% of Vietnam’s pepper output is exported to more than 80 countries and territories around the world.

About 15 Vietnamese businesses are taking the lead in pepper exports in the world, accounting for more than 50% of the total market share. Key export markets include the US, Germany and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Economists suggest local pepper exporters focus on ensuring product quality, studying market trends and overcoming trade barriers in overseas markets to maintain the country’s No1 position globally.

Vietnam toasts trade surplus with Japan

Vietnam saw a trade surplus of nearly US$1.8 billion from exports to Japan last year, according to General Department of Customs statistics.

Bilateral trade reached nearly US$23 billion, of which Vietnam's exports to Japan accounted for $12.37 billion.

For the past few years, the two countries have maintained a high growth rate for bilateral trade, and Vietnam has achieved a trade surplus for several consecutive years.

Two-way trade achieved high growth rates of about 17% year on average during the 2005-12 period, the department reported. It nearly doubled from US$8.5 billion in 2005 to US$24.7 billion in 2012.

In recent years, the trade balance has typically leaned towards Vietnam. In 2011, Vietnam enjoyed a trade surplus of US$0.4 billion; this figure then rose to US$1.5 billion in 2012 and US$1.8 billion by November 2013.

Vietnam's key exports to Japan include textiles, oil, transport vehicles and their parts, machinery equipment and their parts, seafood, wood and wood products, plastic products, computers, and electronic products and components. Currently, Vietnamese textile exports to the Japanese market are favoured with a preferential tax rate of zero percent.

Alternatively, Vietnamese imports from Japan are mainly machinery equipment and their parts, computers, electronic products and components, steel and steel products, raw materials for the textile and footwear industries, and plastic products; these five groups in total reached a value of US$7.62 billion, accounting for 73% of all Vietnamese imports to Japan.

Four years after inking the Vietnam-Japan Economic Partnership Agreements (VJEPA), many Vietnamese export businesses have effectively exploited the advantages of preferential tariffs to boost exports to the Japanese market.

However, in order to enhance the share of Vietnamese goods in this demanding market, exporters must study the market for a better understanding of the commitments of the free trade agreements. They must also be prepared to face the various challenges of meeting high technical standards, especially in overcoming the strict barriers against food products in the Japanese market.

Decree lifts foreign ownership cap

A single foreign strategic investor is now allowed to hold up to 20% in a credit institution, an increase from the current 15%.

According to a decree issued late last week and to come into force on February 20, it is expected the decree will pave the way for foreign capital to flow into the banking sector.

Previously, the holding of a foreign investor was capped at 15%, or 20% for exceptions that had to be approved by the Prime Minister.

Under the decree, if not being a strategic partner, a foreign individual investor is allowed to own up to 5% of a credit institution's charter capital, while a foreign organisation's maximum holdings can be 15%.

However, the decree regulates that the total stakes of foreign investors in a local credit institution cannot exceed 30% of the charter's capital, lower than the expectation of many banks at 49%.

In case of poorly-performing credit institutions which need restructuring, the Prime Minister will decide on allowing the holdings of a foreign organisation or a foreign strategic investor which can exceed the limits, the decree says.

This will create the legal basis for the M&A in the banking sector, for example, the acquisition of a Singapore lender of Global Petro Bank (GPBank).

The State Bank of Vietnam's chief inspector, Nguyen Huu Nghia, told Dau Tu (Investment) on-line newspaper that the holdings of 20% is preferential to foreign investors, as the maximum holdings of local investors is only 15%.

Yet, an analyst with Bao Viet Securities, Nguyen Xuan Binh, the increase of maximum holding of a foreign strategic partner to 20% is still not very appealing to foreign investors, as they often want to purchase holdings of more than 30% – which will help them have a voice in management.

Binh was quoted by The Sai Gon Times as saying that the impact of the increase in foreign stakes in a credit institution won’t be too large.

The decree also set standards for a foreign investor to be eligible to become a strategic partner of a credit institution in Vietnam. One of the standards point out that the investor must have operated at least five years in the financial and banking sectors and have minimum total assets of US$20 billion in the year preceding to the registry for buying a stake.

In addition, if a foreign investor becomes a strategic partner of a credit institution, it will not be allowed that the foreign investor also owns more than 10% of charter capital in any other credit institution in Vietnam.

JBIC opens representative office in Hanoi

The Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC) has officially opened its first ever representative office in Hanoi after securing approval from the Governor of the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV).

The office, located on the 3rd floor of Sun City Building at No13 Hai Ba Trung Street, Hoan Kiem district, has been granted a five year operating license.

The JBIC rep. office is authorised to conduct market surveys, monitor the implementation of contracts signed between JBIC and Vietnamese credit organizations, and promote investment cooperation projects with local partners.

At present, JBIC is coordinating closely with many Vietnamese banks, such as the Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam (Vietcombank), the Vietnam Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (Vietinbank) and the Bank for Investment and Development of Vietnam (BIDV), in its bid to provide financial assistance to Japanese firms in Vietnam.

Hanoi targets US$1.3 billion in FDI

Hanoi has set a goal of attracting US$1.3 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2014, despite failing to meet its annual FDI targets over the past two years.

The capital city is also aiming to ensure around US$1billion of the targeted FDI is disbursed this year.

According to the municipal People's Committee, the city hopes to license 250 new projects requiring a total capital investment of US$700 million, while permitting 130 ongoing projects to increase their investments by a total of US$600 million.

Deputy director of the Municipal Department of Planning and Investment Nguyen Manh Quyen noted that the city's FDI target this year is achievable compared with the targets of the past two years.

He said the city has drawn up measures to foster a more transparent investment climate and approved a list of priority projects, including infrastructure-related projects. In addition, another programme currently under development aims to attract higher investments from Japan.

Last year, the city attracted registered FDI of over US$1.13 billion, or about 87.2% of the annual target. The FDI disbursement, meanwhile, was US$872 million, which was 97% of the target.

In a report to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, committee vice chairman Nguyen Van Suu attributed the poor performance to negative impact from the global and domestic economies, complex procedures and an inadequate supply of land for investors hoping to implement large-scale projects in the city.

The city's scheme adjustments and frozen real estate market also prompted delays by investors and increased the time spent on completing administrative procedures, Suu added.

Hanoi currently ranks third in the country for the amount of FDI invested in the provinces and cities nationwide.

The Foreign Investment Agency's statistics showed that, by the end of last year, the city had 2,677 foreign-investor-led projects with total registered capital of more than US$22.27 billion.

Foreign currency account opening regulated

The State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) has issued a circular, which will be effective on February 14, to regulate the opening and usage of foreign currency accounts to serve direct investment activities in other countries, the Vietnam Government Portal reported on January 8.

Accordingly, after getting a certificate for overseas investment, the investor must open an account, which is used for all transactions related to the investment in foreign currencies, at an authorised credit institution and conduct registration with the SBV or its branches in provinces and cities.

An investor who has many investment projects abroad must open an account for each project. If a project is invested by multiple investors, each of the investors must open an account for the investment at the same authorised credit institutions within the registered capital in accordance with their investment certificate issued by authorised agencies of Vietnam.

The SBV’s Department of Foreign Currency Management is authorised to certify the registration of overseas investment, account changes, and capital transferred to investors who are credit institutions.

The SBV branches in provinces and cities where the investor is headquartered or the investor registers for permanent residence will certify the registration of overseas investment, account changes and capital transferred to other investors who are not credit institutions.

The investor must repatriate profits and investment capital after the liquidation, dissolution, capital downsizing or transferring the investment project in accordance with the current regulations on investment.

If an investor wants to reinvest his or her benefits from a project in that one or another, he or she must conduct procedures to adjust the investment certificate or apply for a new certificate for the new investment project, as well as report the investment to the SBV as regulated.

Made-in-Vietnam goods gain consumer trust

A remarkable 71% of people surveyed are now satisfied with high-quality made-in-Vietnam goods that make up almost 90% of the market share at supermarkets, an official from the Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) has announced.

MoIT Deputy Minister Ho Thi Kim Thoa revealed the information with some fanfare on January 8 during a meeting between her ministry and the National Steering Committee for the campaign “Vietnamese prioritise using Vietnamese goods”.

She said after four years of the campaign, a number of positive outcomes have been seen, creating a foundation to work on in the following years.

According to a recent survey by the agency, the ratio of using domestic input materials as well as machines in production has seen an increase of 25%. Rural people are getting used and beginning to favour commodities produced at home.

However, the ministry pointed out several limitations facing the work, including the unsustainable distribution of goods in rural areas and some enterprises making use of promotions to consume inventories and out-of-date goods as well as lack of sanctions.

Addressing the meeting, President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front Central Committee Nguyen Thien Nhan, who led the Steering Committee to the event, asked the ministry in collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology to support businesses in building trademarks, provide regular supply to disadvantaged areas and honour organisations and individuals who have shown good performance in the campaign.

The nationwide initiative has been benefiting domestic enterprises and manufacturers, said a representative from the National Textile and Garment Group.

Nevertheless, the firms involved are burdened with the huge costs of transport, sale and management. To address the issue, the formation of distribution centres at major economic hubs and cities are required.

Garment sector aims for 12% export growth in 2014

The garment sector has worked out key solutions for achieving both revenue and export growth of 12% in 2014.

Le Tien Truong, Vice General Director of the Vietnam Textile and Garment Group (Vinatex) said at a press briefing in Hanoi on January 8 that 2014 is forecast to be a hard year for the economy, but, the garment sector still has a reasonably bright future owing to developed countries like the US and the stability of newly-emerging countries.

To meet the target, the sector will focus on key solutions for investment, finance, personnel management, market expansion and business renovation, Truong said.

Truong reported garment exports increased by 16.9% in 2013 to US$19.8 billion, accounting for 15% of the country’s total export value, excluding export of materials.

Of the figure, the group’s exports reached nearly US$3 billion, up 12% compared to the previous year, and its domestic turnover hit VND22.5 trillion, up 15%.

Its employee’s average income was more than VND5.2 million per month, representing an annual rise of 10%. Its subsidiaries like Dong Xuan, Dap Cau, Viet Tien, Hoa Tho and Phong Phu, have all achieved impressive growth, contributing to the group’s success.

In 2013, the Garment 10 Company earned a phenomenal VND1.8 trillion in turnover, up 20% compared to the previous year.

As planned, in 2014 the company will increase its investment in production lines and aim to earn more than VND2 trillion in turnover. It will expand the domestic market and develop its trademark to international markets.

Laos learns from Vietnam’s macroeconomic management

Laos Deputy Prime Minister Somsavat Lengsavad is visiting Vietnam to inquire into Vietnam’s solutions for inflation control, macroeconomic stabilization and sustainable growth.

At a working session with Finance Minister Dinh Tien Dung in Hanoi on January 8, both sides shared experience in the managements of State budget, prices, debts and tax collection.

Dung said in 2014 Vietnam aims to achieve GDP of 5.8%, export growth of 10%, trade deficit of 6% of export value, consumer price index of 7%, total social development investment capital of 30% of GDP and State budget overspending of 5.3% of GDP.

To meet these targets, Vietnam will continue to stabilise macroeconomy, control inflation, ease production difficulties, accelerate economic restructuring, and renovate the growth model.

It will also improve the quality, efficiency and competitiveness of the economy, ensure social security and welfare, and raise the living conditions of people.

For his part, Laos Deputy PM Somsavat said Laos hopes to learn from Vietnam’s experience in macroeconomic development and management.

He expressed his belief that with the government’s effective solutions, Vietnam’s economy will soon recover from the difficult times and develop stably in the coming years.

Japanese-funded US$440 mln factory inaugurated in Dong Nai

Japan’s Lixil Group opened its building material manufacturing plant in Dong Nai province’s Long Duc Industrial Zone.

Lixil Vietnam Ltd Company, built on 55ha with investment capital of more than US$440 million, manufactures resin and aluminum products, including sashes, door and window frames, and roofs

The project, the largest Japanese investment in Dong Nai, expects to generate 2,000 jobs for local people.

Dinh Quoc Thai, Chairman of the Dong Nai provincial People’s Committee, said the number of Japanese investors registered to operate in the province has increased in recent years. In 2013, Japanese investment accounted for 30% of the total of more than US$1.6 billion worth of foreign investment capital in the province.

Thai asserted Dong Nai creates the best possible conditions for businesses to operate effectively in the locality.

PVN exceeds yearly target

The Vietnam Oil and Gas Group (PVN) earned VND762.86 trillion in revenue last year, representing an annual increase of 18% and meeting the target 50 days ahead of schedule.

PVN exploited 310 millionth of crude oil on August 8 and 90 billionth cu.m. of gas on October 24.

It generated 70 billion Kwh of electricity as of December 22 and churned out 8 million tonnes of fertilizer as of September 20.

The Dung Quat Oil Refinery produced 20 million tonnes of petroleum by May 20, 62 days earlier than expected.

In addition, the group signed four new contracts, had five new oil discoveries and put nine oil fields into operation.

In 2014 PVN plans to pump up 16.83 million tonnes of crude oil, bring ashore 9.8 billion cu.m. of gas, generate 15.7 billion Kwh of electricity. It aims to earn VND673.3 trillion and contribute VND144.5 trillion to the State budget.

To meet its target, the group has worked out 12 solutions, including tightening control of the parent company and its subsidiaries and investment projects and strategies for attracting further investment.

At a press briefing in Hanoi on January 7, PVN Chairman of Board of Directors Phung Dinh Thuc said PVN is accelerating its restructuring project in 2012-2015 with a focus on five main fields – oil and gas exploration and exploitation, oil refinery, gas industry, electricity industry and high quality oil and gas services.

The group is divesting from non-core business, aiming to withdraw its capital from Oceanbank and merge its Petrovietnam Finance Corporation (PVFC) with Western Bank by 2015.

Dak Lak, Mondulkiri increase cooperation

The Central Highlands province of Dak Lak and the Cambodian province of Mondulkiri signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on future cooperation in Buon Ma Thuot city on January 8.

Both sides will increase exchanges and cooperation in economy, investment, education, health care, agriculture, forestry, industrial crops (rubber and coffee plantations), and farm product processing for domestic use and export.

They will share experience in management, exploitation and proper use of forest resources, and epidemic prevention for cattle and poultry.

They will better work on border management, including border demarcation and landmark planting, in line with border agreements between the two countries, to address arising problems and ensure security and order along the border.

Both sides will work closer together to search for and repatriate remains of volunteer Vietnamese soldiers who lost their lives in Cambodia, and strengthen cooperation within the framework of the Cambodia-Laos-Vietnam Development Triangle.

Dak Lak and Mondulkiri have signed 11 MoUs over the years, focusing on border gate investment and construction and economic cooperation and development.

Mondulkiri also created favourable conditions for Dak Lak province’s enterprises to conduct surveys and invest in agricultural production, hydropower construction, and tour expansion.

Accordingly, the Dak Lak Rubber Company implemented a project on rubber development and other industrial crops in Mondulkiri with total a investment capitalisation of US$10 million.

So far, Mondulkiri has handed over 5,108 hectares of land to the company. The company also planted 1,635 hectares of rubber, creating 163 jobs for Cambodian laborers.

The Dak Lak province’s health, industrial and education sectors have also cooperated effectively with Mondulkiri

Vietnam-Algeria Committee meets in Hanoi

Vietnam and Algeria will soon implement cooperation projects in oil&gas, investment, trade, health care, education, agriculture, information technology, tourism, and housing.

These areas of cooperation were discussed at the 10th meeting of the Vietnam-Algeria Inter-government Committee in Hanoi on January 8. The event was co-chaired by Vietnamese Minister of Construction Trinh Dinh Dung and Algerian Minister of Industrial Development and Investment Promotion Amara Benyounes.

Economic ties between Vietnam and Algeria have grown and flourished over the years, with two-way trade increasing sharply.

Vietnam Customs statistics show Vietnam exports goods worth nearly US$150 million to Algeria in 2013, a year-on-year rise of 30%, while its imports were just valued at US$3 million.

Its major exports include coffee, rice, pepper, seafood, footwear, machinery and equipment.

A joint venture enterprise between the PetroVietnam Exploration and Production Corporation (PVEP) and its Algerian partners are progressing, with first flows of commercial oil to be pumped up later this year.

Progress was also made in agricultural, aquaculture, information technology, and tourism cooperation.

According to Amara Benyounes, the current bilateral cooperation mechanism has proved effective, helping strengthen the comprehensive ties between the two countries.

However, he noted, two-way trade has yet to match both countries’ potential. He said Algeria is calling for investment in metallurgy, oil exploitation, farm product processing, power generation, and construction.

The African nation is accelerating economic reform, industrial modernisation, and infrastructure upgrade to attract foreign investment.

Vietnam has received a draft plan for bilateral cooperation in health care, education, vocational training, tourism, and sports. This plan will be examined carefully at this meeting which ends on January 10.

Taiwan a promising market for Vietnamese products

Taiwan has become Vietnam’s fifth largest trading partner, according to the most recent press release of the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MoIT)’s Asia-Pacific Market Department.

Taiwan--the fourth largest exporter to Vietnam--plays a pivotal role in shipping Vietnamese products to other markets in the US, Asia and Europe, the MoIT says.

However, on the downside, the significantly lower import of Vietnamese goods into theTaiwanese market, which is ranked 16th among Vietnam’s biggest importers, results in an imbalance in trade turnover.

Over the past two decades, Vietnam’s Taiwanese exports included telephones and spare parts, garments and textiles, agro-forestry-fishery products, machines, footwear, ceramics, computers, and electronics.

The MoIT release states that with a total population of 23 million and a US$474 billion GDP, Taiwan enjoyed an annual economic growth rate of 4.8%.

Currently there are more than 200,000 Vietnamese people living in Taiwan and that will help promote made-in-Vietnam products in the Taiwanese market.

To penetrate the Taiwanese market, the MoIT says, local exporters should pay due attention to ensuring food hygiene and safety, increasing product quality, and grasping up-to-date information on tariff and non-tariff policies.

Major focus should be given to product diversification, export promotion, market expansion and market studies by organizing and participating in domestic and overseas trade fairs.

Vietnam Customs reported that Vietnamese exports to Taiwan achieved a remarkable growth in 2013, earning nearly US$2.08 billion in the first 11 months, equivalent to the previous year‘s figure.

The country’s export earnings from the Taiwanese market were estimated at US$1.84 billion in 2011 and US$2.081 billion in 2012.

MoIT economists forecast Taiwan will continue to be Vietnam’s promising export market in the coming years, especially for three key items – telephones and spare parts, garments and textiles, and seafood.

Vietnamese exports to Taiwan particularly timber products, footwear, porcelains, and ceramics will reap higher revenue, the MoIT concludes.

HCM City development plan focuses on services

The Government has approved HCM City's socio-economic development plan for this decade, which focuses on restructuring the economy to make services the pre-eminent sector.

By 2020 services will account for 58.2-60 per cent of the city's GDP and industry and construction section for 39.2 - 41 per cent.

The focus will be on nine main services, namely finance - credit - banking - insurance, commerce, transport, warehouses, ports, post – telecommunications - information technology and communications, property, tourism, health, and education and training.

Modern infrastructure to facilitate the services sector will be developed with supermarkets, hotels, hi-tech health centres, and universities of international standards being built.

In the industrial sector, the city will focus on areas with high economic value and involving research and technology — electronics and information technology; pharmaceuticals; rubber; and food processing.

It will also develop the bio-technology, clean industry, energy saving, garment, footwear, and fashion and design sectors.

It will shift gradually from assembling to producing, and will develop supporting industries for the machinery, electronics, and information technology sectors.

More hi-tech industrial parks will be established and all production firms will be located in industrial parks and clusters.

The city will modernise agriculture and improve productivity, quality, efficiency, and competitiveness.

By 2012 all 56 rural communes will meet the standards adopted for the new national rural areas.

Areas like the Can Gio submerged forest and other forests in Binh Chanh and Cu Chi Districts will remain protected.

The plan also targets reducing poverty to 7-8 per cent by year.

By 2015 the city's population will be 8.2 million, excluding migrants.

The plan also targets basically mitigating the flooding caused by rains and high tides in the city centre by 2015.

It envisages economic growth of 10-10.5 per cent in 2011-15 and 9.5-10 per cent in 2016-20.

PVN defies the odds to pass annual targets

Viet Nam National Oil and Gas Group (PetroVietnam) has completed all its targets and set new records despite an economic downturn, PetroVietnam's deputy general director, Le Minh Hong, announced on Tuesday.

Total revenue for PetroVietnam and its affiliates in 2013 soared to a combined VND762.86 trillion (US$36.33 billion), 18 per cent higher than the target set for the year, Hong said at the group's annual business review meeting in Ha Noi.

Of the combined revenue, PetroVietnam accounted for VND384.4 trillion ($18.3 billion), which represented a year-on-year increase of nine per cent.

PetroVietnam's chairman, Phung Dinh Thuc, said the results were impressive given the challenges in the domestic and global markets.

Last year, the group contributed VND195.4 trillion ($9.3 billion) to the State budget, which was 4.5 per cent higher than a year ago and 31.5 per cent higher than the target.

Total pre-tax profit climbed to VND62.8 trillion ($3 billion), which represented a year-on-year increase of 27.5 per cent. The return on equity (ROE) was 17.1 per cent, while the total-debt-to-total-asset ratio was 0.4 times, indicating a secure financial situation for PetroVietnam.

Last year, the group's total output from oil and gas exploration was up five per cent over the previous year, reaching 26.46 million tonnes of oil equivalent (TOE). Oil output accounted for 16.71 million TOE, a 4.4 per cent increase compared with the target set for the year. The gas output was six per cent higher than the target, reaching 9.75 billion cubic metres.

The group also signed four new contracts and seven agreements. It discovered five new oil fields, while nine oil fields became operational.

Last year, PetroVietnam generated and transmitted 16.17 billion kWh of power to the national electricity grid, surpassing its target by 16.7 per cent.

"Last year, electricity generation made profits for the first time," he added.

Petrol output was 6.6 million tonnes, 22.5 per cent higher from the initial goal.

Revenue from petrol services increased to VND236.3 trillion ($11.25 billion), accounting for 31 per cent of the group's total revenue.

In 2013, PetroVietnam reported a total investment of VND76.5 trillion ($3.6 billion), from which VND7 trillion ($333 million) was disbursed.

The group completed investments in 42 projects that started operating during the year.

It has also been implementing a restructuring plan approved by Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung aimed at introducing drastic measures at the group and its affiliates.

The strong set of results is likely to enable the company to complete its targets for 2014 ahead of schedule.

Thuc said PetroVietnam estimates oil and gas reserves to increase to 55-61 million TOE this year, 20 per cent higher than the target set by the Government.

Petrol exploitation was expected to reach 26.63 million TOE; crude oil would account for 16.21 million TOE, while gas would account for 9.8 million tonnes.

It will strive to generate VND673.3 trillion ($32 billion) in revenue in 2014 and contribute VND144.5 trillion ($6.9 billion) to the State budget.

Its pre-tax profit is estimated at VND55 trillion ($2.6 billion) this year.

The chairman said PetroVietnam has implemented projects in foreign countries, such as Russia, Peru, Venezuela and Malaysia. The enterprise would increase its overseas investments as it searches for new oil fields in accordance with its resources and business plans.

Responding to a question on the divestment (sell-off) of its non-core businesses, he said PetroVietnam would continue to support its affiliates' efforts to raise capital at the best prices.

Accordingly, the PetroVietnam Finance Company (PVFC) joined hands with the Western Bank to establish PVCombank. PetroVietnam's capital in the bank after the merger was reduced from 78 per cent to 52 per cent. It will continue to reduce its capital in the bank, according to an earlier plan.

"Our target is to provide favourable conditions for the bank to operate effectively, thus reducing our share in the bank's capital at the possible best price. This will ensure the group's financial results are not affected," he added.

Ocean Bank could also undergo a divestment process by 2015, with the aim of raising capital at the best possible price.

Seafood firms eye supermarket sales

Local seafood businesses will seek to expand their businesses by selling fish products via supermarket channels, according to experts.

Nguyen Thi Thu Sac, deputy chairwoman of the Viet Nam Seafood Association (VASEP) and the head of the association for enterprises providing seafood for the domestic market, said at present there are 13 local seafood firms that have succeeded in selling their products through the Co.opMart supermarket system into the domestic market.

This year, four more seafood firms will join the supermarket system to sell seafood, she said.

Co.opMart officials said the businesses should offer new and special products to customers to compete with their rivals, according to the Thoi bao Kinh te Viet Nam (Vietnam Economic Times) newspaper.

The VASEP set up the association for enterprises providing seafood for the domestic market this year to create favourable conditions for local firms in promoting domestic seafood consumption, Sac said.

The club has attracted 30 local seafood firms to cooperate in improving the quality and quantity of seafood available for the domestic market.

However, experts of the fisheries industry say Vietnamese customers have well-worn habits in how they consume fresh seafood products that are difficult to change. The seafood firms, for instance, are finding it difficult in promoting frozen and processed seafood products.

Those frozen products have been mainly sold at supermarkets in large cities and provinces, and they are finding it difficult to enter traditional markets, they say. At traditional fish markets, traders find it difficult to invest in refrigeration equipment and warn that such extra costs would result in increases in the prices they sell fish at.

ASEAN forecast upbeat for 2014

Business optimism in the ASEAN economies heading into 2014 is rising, and is currently up 45 per cent, according to new research from Grant Thornton's International Business Report (IBR).

This is thanks to improvements in confidence in Viet Nam (from – 10 per cent up to 40 per cent), the Philippines (72 per cent up to 90 per cent), Malaysia (12 per cent up to 20 per cent) and Indonesia (56 per cent in third quarter to 78 per cent in fourth quarter 2013).

The figure is in stark contrast to the optimism among ASEAN countries this time last year, which stood at net 25 per cent. Meanwhile, global business optimism has dropped back to 27 per cent.

Optimism in Southeast Asia crept up for the third quarter straight, boosted by Indonesia (78 per cent), although Thai businesses (-20 per cent) remain unsettled by ongoing political unrest.

"Things seem to be improving quite markedly in ASEAN economies. The contrast from 12 months ago is stark – as business leaders plan for 2014, optimism in the ASEAN look more robust, however uncertainty is growing in some countries," Ken Atkinson, Managing Partner at Grant Thornton, said.

It should however be noted that revenue prospects across the ASEAN have fallen by 59 percentage points over the past 12 months, to 54 per cent.

In Viet Nam, expectations for revenue growth have decreased from 90 percentage points to 52 per cent over the same period.

Similarly, peers' expectations for rising profits have dropped in Viet Nam (86 to 50 per cent) Thailand (53 down to 16 per cent), Singapore (46 down to 28 per cent), Malaysia (56 down to 52 per cent) and the Philippines (66 down to 60 per cent) compared with 12 months previously (fourth quarter 2012).

By contrast, Indonesia has the most optimism for increasing profitability (70 per cent).

Expectations for employment, investment and salaries have recovered (37 per cent) in the ASEAN after a slowdown in the first three quarters of 2013.

However Thai business leaders are more pessimistic than their peers in Philippines (26 per cent), Viet Nam (32 per cent) and Malaysia (36 per cent). This is due to the fact that Thailand has been gripped by riots which has hindered business growth.

"The hope is that we are moving toward a more balanced regional economy with fewer extremes. This should support business growth prospects; greater balance and less volatility means businesses can plan for the future and make decisions with greater certainty," added Ken Atkinson.

Ford recalls faulty Transit minibus

Ford Viet Nam announced that it is recalling 524 of its best-selling Transit minibus vehicles due to faulty windshield wiper motors. All the affected vehicles were manufactured between December 15, 2012, and March 27, 2013.

The US auto maker said the wiper motors on these vehicles might not have been properly assembled, as a result of which the wipers could suddenly stop working.

Ford attributed the failure of the wiper motors to suppliers who did not follow the American car maker's strict quality requirements.

The company, based in the northern province of Hai Duong, said it has begun notifying Transit owners about the problem. Dealers will replace the wiper motors on the affected vehicles free of charge.

The replacement procedure could take up to 30 minutes, the company added.

Transit has been the best-selling commercial vehicle in Viet Nam for several years thanks to its reliability and ability to reduce fuel consumption. According to the Viet Nam Automobile Manufacturers Association (VAMA), Ford sold 1,817 Transit minibus units in the first 11 months of 2013.

In April 2013, Ford recalled more than 16,000 Transit vans in the United Kingdom due to a faulty brake pedal clip.

A possibility that the faulty clip could detach and cause a disconnection of the brake pedal and brake failure was the reason for the recall, according to the UK's Vehicle and Operators Services Agency (VOSA).

HSG reports massive 58% increase in profits

Hoa Sen Group (HSG), the nation's leading steel and corrugated iron producer, yesterday reported an impressive growth in their profits of 58 per cent for the fiscal year 2012-13, despite the many challenges facing the domestic steel sector.

In its annual shareholders' meeting in HCM City, the group confirmed that it had earned after-tax profits of VND581 billion (US$27.67 million).

During the same period, the group said, it had reached total sales of more than 634,100 tonnes and gained revenues of over VND11.7 trillion ($577.1 million). Year-on-year, these figures jumped by 32 per cent and 17 per cent respectively.

About 280,000 tonnes of its products were exported to 40 nations and territories, earning nearly $252 million.

Chairman Le Phuoc Vu attributed the successful results to the group's strong decisions to invest in big projects as well as to develop distribution systems in Viet Nam and their trademark within the community.

Vu said that in the coming months, his group would continue to expand their market into regional countries by opening more plants and representative offices in Southeast Asia.

For the next fiscal year, which is predicted to be similarly difficult, the group plans to further develop their core business of producing corrugated iron, steel pipes and plastic pipes.

In the 2013-14 fiscal year, HSG aims to sell a total of 700,000 tonnes. It also plans to reach revenues of VND14 trillion ($666.7 million) and gain after-tax profits of VND600 billion ($28.6 million).

The same day, Euromoney, the world's famous financial magazine, awarded Hoa Sen Group the Best Managed Company in Asia 2014 in the metal and mining sector.

The prize was chosen by 130 analysts from famous banks and research institutions in the Asia Pacific region, following thorough research into 207 companies in the region.

Economic Zone greenlights 28 new projects in 2013

The Nghi Son Economic Zone (NSEZ) in Thanh Hoa province last year licensed 28 investment projects worth VND10.3 trillion (US$490 million), according to the zone's management board.

The board said it would strive to expand the zone and encourage firms to invest in projects in the services sector to meet the demands of the zone's large projects.

The turnover of the zone's firms increased to VND15.56 trillion ($742.9 million) in 2013, up 46 per cent from the previous year.

VietinBank goes from strength to strength with annual asset surge

The total assets of the Joint Stock Commercial Bank for Industry and Trade (VietinBank) grew 14.4 per cent in 2013 from the previous year.

Its pre-tax profit inched up to VND7.75 trillion ($369 million), the bank announced on Tuesday.

The bank's total mobilised funds increased 11 per cent, while its total investment and credit grew 14.7 per cent. Its bad debts fell sharply to 0.82 per cent. The bank is expected to announce a 10 per cent dividend.

With over VND4 trillion ($190.5 million) as its contribution to the budget, VietinBank, last year, topped the list of Viet Nam's top 10 income tax contributors for the fourth consecutive year. It has also become the country's largest bank in terms of charter capital and equity after an increase of more than VND37 trillion ($1.76 billion) in its charter capital and a more than VND55 trillion ($2.62 billion) increase in its equity.

Economic Zone gets go-ahead in Ca Mau

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has approved a development plan for Nam Can Economic Zone (EZ) in the southernmost province of Ca Mau.

Under the scheme, the EZ will develop into a multi-sector economic zone by 2030, divided into chains of urban and non-tariff areas.

The zone is designed to be an international trade centre for the Cuu Long (Mekong) Delta. Its major industries are mechanics, shipbuilding, electronics, garments and textiles, telecoms and seafood processing,

Covering an area of nearly 11,000 hectares along National Highway 1A, the EZ runs through Nam Can Town and Ham Rong, Hang Vinh and Dat Moi communes and is currently home to more than 34,000 people.

Its population is expected to increase to 45,000 by 2020 and 90,000 by 2030.

Vinamit honoured for growing niche in China

Dried fruit producer, Vinamit JSC, has become the only Vietnamese representative to receive the China-ASEAN Business Council's award for successfully penetrating the Chinese market.

The award, which honours firms and entrepreneurs from ASEAN member countries for their outstanding performance in the Chinese market and contributions to economic development, environmental protection and social activities in the host country, was presented at a ceremony held in Beijing on January 7.

Vinamit's products, including dried jackfruit, banana, sweet potato, taro and mango, are sold in major supermarket chains and online marketing networks across China and becoming very popular with Chinese people.

Established in 1991, Vinamit, which is headquartered in the southern province of Binh Duong, posts an annual average growth rate of 30 percent-50 percent.

Sales in China make up 60 percent of the company's export turnover.

The company has set up distribution networks in many countries and territories worldwide such as China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines, Japan and the United States, among others.

On this occasion, the council also presented awards to Chinese companies and businessmen who have successfully set foot in the ASEAN market.

Within the framework of the event, a trade promotion conference between Hunan province and Fangcheng Gang city of Guangxi province, and the ten-member ASEAN group was held to introduce the Chinese localities' economic potential for cooperation.

ASEAN is now Hunan's third largest trade partner and second largest importer. Presently, 337 Hunan businesses are operating in ASEAN member countries with a total investment of 1.4 billion USD.

According to Jiang Xiuqian, Fangcheng Gang's vice mayor, China will focus on developing border areas in the next three decades.

To this end, the Chinese Government has issued a range of preferential policies to create more opportunities for connection between China and ASEAN countries.

Entering the "diamond decade", ASEAN and China have set a target of bringing their trade to 1 trillion USD in 2020.

Source: VEF/VNA/VNS/VOV/SGT/SGGP/Dantri/VIR

pepper export, trade surplus, foreign ownership cap, JBIC, economic zones
 
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