Feature: Vietnam faces rising consumer prices


by Thai Thanh Van

    HANOI, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — “It’s hard to live in the times when prices of everything see dizzy rise as now. My pension of over one million Vietnamese dong (VND) (62.5 U.S. dollars) is just enough for food in 10 days,” 58-year-old Vietnamese housewife Nguyen Thi Hanh said.

    “Prices of dairy products and meat now nearly double those of two months ago,” the woman said, while shopping at a local market in Vietnam’s Hanoi capital city.

    Vietnam’s consumer prices experienced a year-on-year increase of 9.34 percent in October, partly driven by higher costs of foods, foodstuffs, construction materials, and pharmaceuticals, according to the country’s General Statistics Office.

    Among 10 commodities and services used in calculating consumer price index, food and foodstuff saw respective price hikes of 15.98 percent and 14.19 percent last month.

    The higher consumer prices are mainly due to the impacts of flooding, diseases, and increased costs of some imported materials and products such as gold, steel, petroleum and pharmaceuticals, Vietnamese Finance Minister Vu Van Ninh said, adding that the country now has to import up to nearly 100 percent of petroleum products, 80 percent of milk materials, and over 60 percent of steel billets.

    Local experts forecast that the prices would continue to rise in the approaching months, due to increasing demand of goods, especially during the upcoming Lunar New Year festival, the acceleration of construction projects, and anticipated hikes of imported prices of some products.

    To curb the price pressure, Vietnam has focused on intensifying state management on prices, reducing tariffs of some imported items, speeding up production, and controlling the movement of capital streams.

    The Finance Ministry has proposed the government set pricing ceilings on 13 items, including steel, oil and gas, sugarcane, fertilizer, beverage and tobacco, garment, footwear, construction material, household utensil and pharmaceutical.

    In another move, the country has decided to cut import tax on new completely-built cars to 60 percent from 70 percent, halved tariffs on some dairy products, and removed tariffs on gas.

    Besides, the ministry has proposed the government lower import taxes on food, foodstuffs, animal feeds and construction materials.

    Regarding production-related measure, the government has asked state officials in charge of specific fields to directly instruct firms to actively accelerate production, increase productivity, slash production cost, enhance products’ competitiveness, and ensure the sufficient supply of goods with reasonable prices, especially food, foodstuffs, petroleum, fertilizers, steel, cement and medicines.

    It has also required ministries, sectors, and localities to instruct stronger production and preparation of goods and services slated for the New Year festival, especially food, foodstuffs, confectionery, beer, wine, clothes, publications and means of transports to prevent sudden rises in their prices before and after the event.

    As for controlling capital streams, the government has instructed the Finance Ministry to keep on issuing government bonds in the 2007-2008 period, and coordinating with the Ministry of Planning and Investment to accelerate the disbursement of capital for state-funded investment projects, and with ministries of Industry and Trade, Construction, and Health to strengthen inspection and management of prices of petroleum products, real estates, medicines, steel and gas to prevent speculation.

    “Despite all of the price-cutting measures, we have yet to see any positive changes in the market. Prices still rise every day,” said 40-year-old administrative clerk Tran Thi Hue from Hanoi. “I think the best way is to increase salary.”

    Vietnam, which had consumer price index of 6.6 percent in 2006,has eyed to keep this year’s index lower than the targeted economic growth of 8.5 percent.

Editor: Yao Siyan

ASEAN foreign ministers endorse landmark Charter


SINGAPORE, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — Foreign ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Monday accepted a new charter aiming to transform the grouping into a rules-based and more integrated regional entity.

    On the second day of the 13th ASEAN Summit and related meetings, the ministers listened to the presentation by the High Level Task Force of the ASEAN Charter, which will be submitted to and signed by the leaders of 10 member countries on Tuesday.

    Before the presentation, Singapore’s Foreign Minister George Yeo said the landmark document will take regional integration to a higher level.

    After the meeting, Myanmar Foreign Minister Nyan Win told reporters that his country agrees with the charter, saying, “We will sign, sure.”

    Founded in August 1967, ASEAN groups Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

    In order to be more ready to face challenges, ASEAN needs a legal foundation and institutional framework for building up the regional integration.

    In 2004, ASEAN leaders decided to introduce a Charter for the bloc, and hoped to realize ASEAN’s long-term goal of becoming a closely integrated regional entity through the implementation of the Charter.

    During the ASEAN Ministerial Meeting last July in Manila, the Philippines, all the participants agreed to endorse the Charter at this year’s summit.

    Set out principles and rules for ASEAN for the first time, the Charter will build a solid institutional framework that will facilitate a more focused and coordinated agenda.

Editor: Sun Yunlong

Floods claim 48 in central Vietnam


HANOI, Nov. 19 (Xinhua) — Flooding sparked by torrential rain in Vietnam’s central region has killed 48 local people, left four missing, and injured 209, since Nov. 10, local newspaper Vietnam Agriculture reported Monday.

    The floods also inundated hundreds of thousands of houses, damaged thousands of hectares of paddy rice, and isolated some areas in the region, causing total property losses of trillions of Vietnamese dong (VND) (hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars).

    The Vietnamese government has decided to fund the central localities 205 billion VND (over 12.8 million dollars), 8,200 tons of rice and 250 tons of instant noodle.

    Last weekend, Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai came to some central localities to direct the work of overcoming the floods’ aftermath. He has asked local relevant agencies to provide sufficient supply of food and clean water for flood-victims, ensuring that no people would face starvation, and keep environmental hygiene to prevent diseases.

    The region may face a new wave of flooding in the next few days, after a spell of torrential rain, according to the National Hydro-Meteorology Forecast Center. Water in some rivers in the region is rising due to heavy rain.

    Natural disasters including typhoons and hails in Vietnam killed 339 people, left 274 persons missing, and injured 2,065 others in 2006. The estimated losses totaled 18.6 trillion Vietnamese dong (nearly 1.2 billion dollars) in the year.

Editor: Bi Mingxin

NA deputies concerned for improvement of farmers’ life


National Assembly deputies on November 17 raised various questions on solutions to improve farmers’ life and the agriculture development policy after Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO).

At the hearing, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat said the Government has taken measures for the purpose by reducing and exempting irrigation fees for farmers, readjusting agricultural production mechanism and promoting agricultural and forestry activities.

The Government has also instructed the prevention and control of cattle, poultry and plant diseases to reduce losses for farmers, provided timely relief aid to disaster and epidemic-ravaged areas and increased investment in transport and irrigation infrastructure and water supply systems for mountainous areas.

The Minister also acknowledged many development opportunities for the agricultural sector. However, he said, there remains a series of challenges, especially to the sector’s efforts to increase its competitiveness. Animal husbandry and fruits and vegetables can face fierce competition due to their limited production capability.

To overcome these difficulties, the minister said that the sector will focus on solutions to improve the export quality of farm products, especially rice, rubber, coffee, tea and seafood while enhancing scientific and technological transfer and ensuring food hygienic safety for export products.

In addition, the sector will also devise policies on aiding large-scaled concentrated breeding, promote the research to create high-quality hybrid plants and animals and present to the Government a scheme to increase investment capital for the agricultural sector.

Meanwhile, Minister of Transport and Communications Ho Nghia Dung admitted shortcomings in his ministry’s responsibility for the low disbursement rate in transport construction projects over the recent past.

At the Question – Answer session of the 12th National Assembly on November 17, Minister Dung spoke of the ministry’s weaknesses which have resulted in the low disbursement rate of capital in State, foreign-invested and official development assistance (ODA) projects.

He went on to say that contractors’ weak financial capacity, shortcomings in ground clearance, construction materials price hike and difficulties in implementing new regulations of the Laws on Bidding and Construction have also slowed down the disbursement rate.

On the increase in the number of traffic accidents and congestions in urban areas, he said dissemination work and strict punishment are considered effective solutions to the problem.

“It is necessary to develop public transport systems, encourage people to get the habit of walking and increase registration fees to reduce the number of private vehicles,” the minister suggested.

Regarding the Can Tho bridge collapse, Minister Dung said that the investigation is underway to find out the cause of the collapse and define the responsibility of those concerned. Vietnam is hiring a foreign consultation company to review the project’s technical design. (VNA)

Vietnam’s overseas workers trapped in ‘no-rights zone’


HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam sends tens of thousands of workers a year to Taiwan, Malaysia, South Korea and elsewhere, but unscrupulous operators trap many of them in conditions akin to slavery, experts say.

Countless Vietnamese women have been trafficked abroad for prostitution, but even more “guest workers” have found themselves in an equally mundane kind of hell — exploited, abused and bankrupted.

“It’s like indentured labour because of the debt that the workers have to take on,” said Professor Daniele Belanger, director of the Population Studies Centre at the University of Western Ontario.

Overseas workers typically pay large fees and hand their passports to their new bosses, said Belanger, whose research team has interviewed Vietnamese migrant workers in Taiwan and South Korea, as well as dozens of returnees.

The contracts effectively trap workers in a “no-rights zone,” and many end up only increasing their debt, Belanger said, as recruiters add extra costs including medical and criminal background checks, training courses, living expenses and taxes.

“The workers at least have to pay the debt back and a lot of them don’t even manage to do that because the fees and interest rates are very high,” she said.

Most labourers effectively work for free for the first year, she said.

In one typical case, reported recently by Vietnamese state media, a man from Danang, central Vietnam said last year that he was cheated after signing a three-year contract to work as a painter in Malaysia.

Belanger said her study, funded by Canada’s International Development Research Centre, found that only some labourers brought money home from Taiwan, the top sum being 7,000 dollars in three years.

“Some of the migrants we interviewed had been victims of trafficking and had dealt with what they called ‘faked agencies’ that they could no longer trace after having returned,” Belanger wrote in a recent paper.

Many Vietnamese are lured into overseas job contracts — usually as factory, construction or domestic workers — by unscrupulous operators.

“There are middlemen, each taking some money,” said Andrew Bruce, Vietnam chief of the International Organisation for Migration. “Someone will introduce you to someone who’ll introduce you to someone, and finally you get to the end of the line and you’ve got that great job.”

But all too often, people fall victim to fraud, he said.

“They end up on a plane with a tourist visa and they arrive in another country and there is no one there to meet them and there is no job there at all.”

Others have to borrow large sums, often using their family land as collateral, only to discover later that they earn too little to repay the loans, with shortfalls of hundreds of dollars per year, Bruce said.

Workers are often tied to one employer, leaving them trapped, he said.

Some of the worst abuses have taken place on the open seas, as Vietnamese fishermen have been recruited to work on Taiwanese fishing fleets in conditions Vietnam’s Tuoi Tre (Young People) newspaper likened to “slave galleys,” working 18 hours for four hours’ rest.

Labour exports aim to keep down unemployment in Vietnam, where an estimated 1.2 million people enter the job market each year, and earn cash to feed Vietnam’s fast growing economy.

Last year 400,000 Vietnamese working in more than 40 countries earned an estimated 1.6 billion dollars.

Vietnam has set a target of sending 80,000 workers abroad this year, and 100,000 annually by 2010, says the Department of Management of Overseas Labourers under the Ministry of Labour, Invalids and Social Affairs.

The top destinations now are Malaysia, which took nearly half of all workers last year, followed by Taiwan, South Korea and Japan, with the Middle East a fast-growing market.

Remittances have been key earners for other Asian countries such as the Philippines, which has sent nearly 10 percent of its population abroad.

But Vietnam, as a relative newcomer to the inter-Asian migrant labour industry, has not yet set up systems to protect all its overseas workers.

Some experts say Vietnam needs to clean up the system if it wants to send more guest workers to the United States, the European Union and Australia.

“This whole situation negatively impacts on the country?s efforts to penetrate new markets in the industrialized countries,” said Bruce.