Vietnam’s China mining plans spark rare criticism

HANOI, April 19, 2009 (AFP) – A plan to let a Chinese company build a bauxite mine in Vietnam has triggered rare public outcry from critics who say the environmental and social damage will far outweigh any economic benefit.

Some even fear the plan, agreed to by leaders of the two communist countries without broader dialogue, could ultimately mean the de facto seizure by Beijing of a strategic region of Vietnam.

Vietnam’s government estimates the country’s bauxite reserves at 5.5 billion tonnes – a major draw for the world’s mining giants.
In 2007 it approved a plan for two major mining operations to be run by state-owned Vietnam National Coal and Mineral Industries Group (Vinacomin) in the Central Highlands.

A subsidiary of Chinese aluminium firm Chinalco has been granted a contract to build one mine, while the US aluminium company Alcoa has partnered with Vinacomin to explore the feasibility of a second.

But in a country that bitterly recalls 1,000 years of Chinese occupation – and more recently a brief 1979 border war – any presence of Vietnam’s big neighbour on its territory is perceived as a menace.

Writer Nguyen Ngoc, whose work focuses on the Central Highlands and its people, said there was a longer-term risk of seeing the region “Sinocised.”

“The Central Highlands constitute a strategic position for all of the south of Indochina,” said Ngoc, who alleges Chinese companies are already exploiting bauxite over the border in Laos.

“They say that who is master of the Central Highlands is master of southern Indochina.”

While the bauxite project presents “financial, ecological and social problems,” he said the most important question was that of security and independence.

In a one-party state where public protest is rare, scientists, intellectuals and former soldiers have combined with fierce critics of the regime to denounce the government’s plans.

“China has been notorious in the modern world as a country causing the biggest pollution as well as other problems,” 135 Vietnamese intellectuals said in a petition criticising the mining plan and delivered Friday to the National Assembly, or parliament.

Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai has said the bauxite mining industry would help spur socio-economic development in the Central Highlands, the state Vietnam News Agency reported.

The government estimates the projects will require total investment of more than 10 billion dollars and will, by 2025, annually produce between 13 and 18 million tonnes of alumina, a partially-processed product of bauxite.

But critics say the mines would bring only limited financial benefit to Vietnam, which plans to export most of the alumina.

The scheme’s most prominent opponent is General Vo Nguyen Giap, 97, who led Vietnam’s defeat of French colonial forces.

In open letters to the government, he warned of the danger to the environment, to the lives of ethnic minorities, and to Vietnam’s “security and defence.”

The Ho Chi Minh City War Veterans’ Association has expressed similar views, and economics professor Nguyen Quang Thai said in a recent report to the government that Giap’s warning should be respected.

“We SHOULD NOT allow foreign labourers into the area,” Thai wrote, without naming China.

Exploitation of natural resources – notably for coffee production – has already provoked violent clashes in the Central Highlands, home to the ethnic minority Christian Montagnards who have battled land confiscation and religious persecution.

Dissident monk Thich Quang Do, head of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, has called on people to denounce the “destructive effects” of the planned mine on indigenous people.

A permanent Chinese presence in the Central Highlands would pose “an alarming threat” to national security, he said.

If the bauxite projects are carried out, scientists fear massive destruction of the fertile soil where forests, coffee and tea grow.

They also worry about water pollution and say the local population, some of whom received or will receive compensation, risk loss of land and are not qualified to work in the factories.

Writer Ngoc said there could be “new revolts” by the region’s ethnic minorities.

Experts estimate thousands of Chinese will arrive for the bauxite projects and say several hundred are already in Lam Dong province, where the ground is being cleared.

“For countries like Vietnam… exploiting natural resources for development is necessary,” said geologist Dang Trung Thuan. “Exploitation is obvious, but to what extent ?”

http://news.asiaone.com/News/Latest%2BNews/Asia/Story/A1Story20090420-136270.html

Vietnam announces stimulus plan to help farmers

HANOI, Vietnam (AP): Vietnam has announced an economic stimulus plan to help farmers who are among those worst affected by the global recession, the government said Saturday.

Under the plan, farmers will have access to interest-free bank loans to buy farming tools and processing equipment, the government said on its Web site.

The government will also subsidize part of the interest paid on bank loans used to buy fertilizer, insecticide and construction materials, the report said. The state will subsidize interest payments of up to 4 percent on the loans, which typically carry interest rates of 10-11 percent annually.

The duration of the interest-free loans will be 12 months, while the maturity of the subsidized loans will be two years, the report, said adding the loans will only be used to buy domestically made products.

This stimulus plan will help “production and consumer in the agriculture and rural sector, one of the sectors worst affected by the global economic recession,” the report said.

The report did not say how much money the government will spend for the new stimulus plan.

The global economic downturn has cut into export demand, affecting export-driven economies such as Vietnam.

Vietnam’s exports grew only 2.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, comparing with the export growth of 29.5 percent for the whole year of 2008, according to the General Statistics Office.

Many of Vietnam’s export items are farm products, and the slowdown in exports have badly affected farmers, who account for more than 70 percent of the country’s 87 million people.

Vietnam’s economy grew only 3.1 percent in the first quarter, the lowest rate in a decade as the global economic slump dragged on exports and construction.

The country’s economy has expanded an average of 7 percent a year the past decade, but it began overheating last year with inflation skyrocketing and the trade deficit ballooning. The economic growth slowed to 6.2 percent in 2008.

The government has lowered its 2009 growth forecast from 6.5 percent to 5 percent.

International financial institutions forecast that Vietnam’s economy could grow between 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent _ still one of the fastest-growing in the world but significantly slower than the previous pace.

Earlier this year, the government announced a $1 billion stimulus plan as part of efforts to keep the economy growing.

The money was used to subsidize bank loan interest for enterprises. So far, local companies have borrowed more than 220 trillion dong ($12.5 billion) under that program.

http://biz.thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/4/19/business/20090419075356&sec=business

Vietnam top official on Japan visit

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s most powerful official, Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, was to arrive Sunday for an official visit to Japan, the country’s largest bilateral aid donor, the government said.

It is the second visit to Japan by Manh, whose last mission there was in 2002, the government said.

Manh was to stay until Wednesday.

“The trip is expected to beef up Vietnam-Japan exchanges and cooperation in all areas, especially in economy, trade, investment and official development assistance (ODA),” the government said on its website.

The state Vietnam News Agency said Japan is Vietnam’s second-biggest trade partner, after China, and is the country’s second-largest export market after the United States.

Manh’s visit comes less than one month after the two countries signed an agreement resuming the flow of aid loans — known as ODA — suspended during a corruption scandal.

Japan announced in December that it would suspend the loans after former executives of a Tokyo-based consultancy admitted paying kickbacks to a Vietnamese official overseeing a Japanese-funded road project.

In February, Tokyo said Vietnamese officials had given assurances that steps would be taken to prevent similar abuses. That led to the signing in March of a deal for low-interest loans covering infrastructure projects worth 83 billion yen (837 million dollars).

Vietnam has made efforts to improve the legal environment and increase measures to strengthen management and effective use of ODA projects, including fighting corruption.

Japan and Vietnam in December signed an economic partnership pact with a promise to cut tariffs on more than 90 percent of goods and services traded between the two nations within a decade.

Vietnam News Agency said that last year the value of Vietnam-Japan trade exceeded 15.5 billion dollars, and by the end of 2008, Japan had invested more than 17 billion dollars in more than 1,000 projects, ranking it third among foreign investors in Vietnam.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5g76xdL_QMMZPQVFvhlxJjxhTUHag

Vietnam reduces taxes to push up demand: govt

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam will reduce some tariffs on goods and services to push up demand in the face of an economic slowdown, according to a decision signed by the prime minister.

Value-added tax (VAT) on garment and textile products, cement, and motorbikes will be reduced by 50 percent between May 1 and December 31, said the ruling signed on Thursday.

Registration fees for cars with fewer than 10 seats will also be reduced by half, while garment and footwear enterprises will benefit from a 30 percent cut in corporate income tax for the fourth quarter of last year, it said.

The cuts were to “stimulate demand and consumption” and prevent an economic downturn, the government said in a statement.

A separate government announcement said farmers, who are suffering the most from the slowdown, will from May get concessionary interest rates for bank credits to buy Vietnamese-made farming tools and processing equipment. The credits will be interest free or reduced by four percent depending on the amount involved.

The majority of fast-developing Vietnam’s people remain farmers.

The moves are part of broad stimulus measures earlier announced by the communist government.

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung told visiting Singaporean Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew that the country’s economic growth would pick up and could reach between five and 5.5 percent this year.

In the first quarter of 2009, Vietnam recorded 3.1 percent growth, the lowest level on record.

The World Bank has projected the country would expand by 5.5 percent this year, while the Asian Development Bank said Vietnam could achieve 4.5 percent, still leaving it in better shape than most Asian economies despite a global downturn.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5hJsuyTOhScED6AD4m70ntjSUm3lw

New rules, market for Vietnam unlisted firms: officials

An investor sits watching share prices at a local securities trading floor in Hanoi

An investor sits watching share prices at a local securities trading floor in Hanoi


HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam will allow foreign investors to increase their stakes in non-listed companies and plans to set up a new trading floor for unlisted shareholding firms, officials said Friday.

The new ruling allows foreign firms to hold up to 49 percent of non-listed shareholding firms, up from 30 percent, said Vo Van Quang, office manager at the State Securities Commission of Vietnam.

Firms listed on the Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City bourses have been allowed to hold stakes of up to 49 percent since 2005.

“This decision aims to widen and encourage indirect foreign investment in the Vietnam stock market,” Quang said.

The directive takes effect on June 1.

Vietnam also plans to launch a new trading floor in June for unlisted shareholding companies at the Hanoi Securities Trading Center, a senior government official told Dow Jones Newswires.

The new market is part of government efforts to help regulate the trade in unlisted companies’ shares, said the State Securities Commission official.

Vietnam has more than one thousand shareholding companies but less than half of those have been listed on either the Hanoi or Ho Chi Minh City exchanges, the official said.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jdImc1L1JLj0WTC9xr2c3wHo5eJw

Vietnam announces stimulus plan to help farmers

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) – Vietnam has announced an economic stimulus plan to help farmers who are among those worst affected by the global recession, the government said Saturday.

Under the plan, farmers will have access to interest-free bank loans to buy farming tools and processing equipment, the government said on its Web site.

The government will also subsidize part of the interest paid on bank loans used to buy fertilizer, insecticide and construction materials, the report said.

The state will subsidize interest payments of up to 4 percent on the loans, which typically carry interest rates of 10-11 percent annually.

The duration of the interest-free loans will be 12 months, while the maturity of the subsidized loans will be two years, the report, said adding the loans will only be used to buy domestically made products.

This stimulus plan will help “production and consumer in the agriculture and rural sector, one of the sectors worst affected by the global economic recession,” the report said.

The report did not say how much money the government will spend for the new stimulus plan.

The global economic downturn has cut into export demand, affecting export-driven economies such as Vietnam.

Vietnam’s exports grew only 2.4 percent in the first quarter of this year, comparing with the export growth of 29.5 percent for the whole year of 2008, according to the General Statistics Office.

Many of Vietnam’s export items are farm products, and the slowdown in exports have badly affected farmers, who account for more than 70 percent of the country’s 87 million people.

Vietnam’s economy grew only 3.1 percent in the first quarter, the lowest rate in a decade as the global economic slump dragged on exports and construction.

The country’s economy has expanded an average of 7 percent a year the past decade, but it began overheating last year with inflation skyrocketing and the trade deficit ballooning.

The economic growth slowed to 6.2 percent in 2008.

The government has lowered its 2009 growth forecast from 6.5 percent to 5 percent.

International financial institutions forecast that Vietnam’s economy could grow between 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent – still one of the fastest-growing in the world but significantly slower than the previous pace.

Earlier this year, the government announced a $1 billion stimulus plan as part of efforts to keep the economy growing.

The money was used to subsidize bank loan interest for enterprises.

So far, local companies have borrowed more than 220 trillion dong ($12.5 billion) under that program.

http://thestar.com.my/news/story.asp?file=/2009/4/18/apworld/20090418120152&sec=apworld

Vietnam requires children to wear helmets

AP – Saturday, April 18

HANOI, Vietnam – Vietnam has closed a legal loophole that exempts children from wearing motorcycle helmets when they ride with their parents, state media reported Saturday.

Under a revised Transport Law that will take effect July 1, adults transporting children under age of 16 without a helmet will be fined up to 200,000 dong ($11), the Thanh Nien (Young People) newspaper said.

Currently, children under 16 or the adults responsible for them cannot be penalized if youngsters riding as passengers do not wear a helmet.

The World Health Organization has urged the Vietnamese government to amend the law to include penalties.

The loophole had weakened a generally successful helmet law that Vietnam enacted in 2007.

Motorbikes are the main mode of transport in Vietnam, with 24 million of them in a country of 87 million people. The WHO has said that even with the exemption for children, the helmet law has helped to save more than 1,000 lives per year since it was introduced.

Vietnam recorded 13,000 road deaths last year, one of the world’s highest rates per 100,000 with the majority of accidents involving motorbikes.

http://ph.news.yahoo.com/ap/20090418/tap-as-vietnam-helmet-law-9a7ed42.html

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