Vietnam starts unwinding stimulus

By Tim Johnston in Bangkok

Published: December 2 2009 16:37 | Last updated: December 2 2009 16:37

Vietnam plans to stop its interest rate subsidy scheme at the end of the year, becoming the first Asian nation to start unwinding its post-crisis stimulus programme, the government announced on Wednesday.

Analysts expect Vietnam’s gross domestic product to grow about 5 per cent this year in contrast to many of its neighbours, which are expected to see their economies shrink.

The government’s stimulus programme – which was touted at $8bn (€5.3bn, £4.8bn) but has actually cost nearer $4bn, or 4.3 per cent of GDP, according to the World Bank – has contributed significantly to growth. Its scheme of subsidising commercial loans by 4 percentage points met with particular success but will now finish at the end of the year, as planned, in spite of commercial pressure to keep it open until March.

“The termination of the program is in line with the interest-rate policy and the market stabilisation and will help businesses to increase their competitiveness,” Nguyen Dong Tien, the deputy governor of the State Bank of Vietnam, said in a statement.

The Vietnamese economy is heavily dependent on exports, which fell more than 14 per cent in dollar terms in the first eight months of the year. But the government bet their limited resources on a stimulus programme which concentrated on supporting industry to keep people in work, putting the country in a strong position to make the best of any upturn.

“This is a country that went the China route without China’s resources,” said Martin Rama, the chief economist for the World Bank in Vietnam.

The gamble seems to have paid off, with exports up last month 19 per cent year on year, industrial production rising 16.4 per cent; and retail sales up 30 per cent.

However, Mr Rama says the scaling back of the stimulus is timely.

“The interest rate subsidy scheme was very instrumental in the early days of the crisis,” he said but added that once the working capital requirements had been fulfilled, the take up-on loans had declined substantially and many of the companies that were latterly availing themselves of the facility were using the loans to buy dollars and gold, putting downward pressure on the dong, the Vietnamese currency.

“It is going to be painful for some but the government are counting on that to make borrowers sell gold and dollars to pay the loans back,” said Mr Rama.

Vietnam hit the headlines last week with a 5.4 per cent devaluation of the dong and a 1 percentage point rise in the reference rate, moves that were made to address specific pressures on the currency. The country has generally come through the crisis much better than many analysts expected and by some measures is showing the world’s fastest growth.

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/cb3a2922-df26-11de-be8e-00144feab49a.html

World Bank reassured by Vietnam steps toward stability

HANOI, Dec 3 (Reuters) – It is “reassuring” to see Vietnam rebalancing its economic policy toward stability, but more turbulence could be on the cards as the global economy continues to recover, the World Bank said on Thursday.

Even as monetary policy tightens, inflation is likely to see some acceleration in Vietnam in 2010, it said in a semi-annual report.

“It is reassuring to see that the government is rebalancing its objectives once again, giving more priority to stability. The decisions made between late October and early December amount to an appropriate macroeconomic framework being put in place,” it said.

Vietnam’s macroeconomic management for the past two years has so far been effective, despite having a relatively “heterodox and at times rudimentary nature”, the Bank said in its report, entitled “Taking Stock”.

Vietnam had taken a series of small steps starting in October to begin to tighten monetary policy, capped by last week’s currency devaluation and interest rate hike. The government also announced this week an end to subsidies on short-term business loans, which has been a pillar of its stimulus package.

The moves were designed to address imbalances that emerged during roughly a year of expansionary monetary and fiscal policy to counter the global economic crisis, including chronic currency weakness spurred by dollar hoarding and expectations of depreciation. (Reporting by John Ruwitch; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman) ((john.ruwitch@thomsonreuters.com; +84 4 3825 9623; Reuters Messaging: john.ruwitch.reuters.com@reuters.net)) ((If you have a query or comment on this story, send an email to news.feedback.asia@thomsonreuters.com))

http://www.reuters.com/article/hotStocksNews/idUSHAN47299220091203

FACTBOX-Five political risks to watch in Vietnam

SINGAPORE, Oct 8 (Reuters) – Vietnam has weathered the global economic crisis relatively well, but the country is still seen as a risky and relatively opaque investment destination.

Following is a summary of key Vietnam risks to watch:

* CORRUPTION

Corruption is endemic in Vietnam at all levels of government, and acts as a major barrier to foreign investment. The authorities had announced aggressive plans to fight corruption, and encouraged the media to act as a watchdog, but these efforts lost steam after several journalists were detained for reporting on major corruption scandals. Progress on corruption will remain a key determinant of investment attractiveness.

Key issues to watch:

— Vietnam’s rank in corruption perceptions rankings. A strong improvement or decline would influence investors.

* GOVERNMENT EFFECTIVENESS

Corruption, lack of accountability and transparency, and burdensome bureaucracy all impact the effectiveness of the government in formulating and implementing policy. Economic reform and the restructuring of inefficient state enterprises are vulnerable to being undermined by entrenched interests and conservative elements in the government more focused on security.

Key issues to watch:

— While the government stimulus package has boosted the economy, there are questions over how the budget deficit can be financed, how inflationary pressure can be contained, and how the crowding out of private investment can be avoided. Hanoi has embarked on a plan to trim bureaucratic procedures in government, and how that scheme plays out will be something to watch.

— Investors frequently list poor infrastructure as one of the biggest barriers in Vietnam, and the government’s ability to coordinate swift, efficient development in this area is being keenly observed.

* EXCHANGE RATE POLICY

Vietnam’s fixed exchange rate policy frequently causes economic pressures to build. The authorities are widely expected to widen the dong’s trading band or devalue it again gradually in coming months, and this has prompted hoarding of dollars. For now, the risk of a sudden big devaluation is considered small.

Key issues to watch:

— Markets are closely watching for any clues to the likelihood and timing of changes to the exchange rate.

* SOCIAL UNREST

Vietnam has seen a rising number of strikes, protests and land disputes, often affecting foreign businesses. Disturbances have erupted in rural areas due to state expropriations of land and the corruption of local officials. But there remains no evidence for now that wider unrest is likely, or that there is any imminent risk of the regime being challenged from below.

Key issues to watch:

— Any sign that a broader national protest movement is emerging out of local disputes. So far, this seems unlikely.

— The role of the Catholic church. Catholics have been engaging in periodic protests over church land taken over by the government after 1954. The Catholic Church, while officially shunning involvement in politics, has 6-7 million followers in Vietnam and is quite well organised.

— Territorial disputes in the South China Sea. This issue is highly charged in Vietnam, where suspicion of China runs high. Any move by China to assert sovereignty over disputed islands in the South China Sea, or perceived weakness by Vietnam on this issue, could galvanise broad based support for demonstrations.

* THE ENVIRONMENT

Vietnam has great potential as a source of tradeable carbon credits under the Kyoto Protocol, but issues of expertise, transparency and financing have hindered progress. Environmental issues may also become a growing source of popular unrest, as in China. With its huge coastline, Vietnam is recognised as one of the countries that will be hardest hit by rising sea levels, particularly in the rice-growing Mekong Delta.

Key issues to watch:

— The extent to which the government manages to limit the environmental damage from Vietnam’s economic growth.

— Any evidence that extreme weather events affecting Vietnam are becoming more frequent as a result of climate change.

(Compiled by Andrew Marshall and John Ruwitch; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

http://www.reuters.com/article/latestCrisis/idUSSP476366

Vietnam PM pledges economic reform

Vietnams Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has promised to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment

Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has promised to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment

TOKYO (AFP) — Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung promised Thursday to push economic reforms and invited more foreign investment as Hanoi tries to limit the global slump’s impact on the communist country.

Addressing a private economic forum in Tokyo, Dung also called for further aid and investment from regional powerhouses, particularly China, India, Japan, South Korea and Australia, to sustain growth in the rest of Asia.

He urged regional nations to continue coordinating their economic stimulus measures and boost trade and investment to maintain regional strength.

“Deeper regional integration and increased intra-regional linkages at different levels will be the key for Asia to be not only the first continent to overcome this crisis, but also to maintain its position as the world’s most important economic locomotive,” he said, speaking through a translator.

Although Asian nations, many of which rely on exports to the United States and Europe for growth, have been hit by the global financial crisis, intra-regional trade had softened its impact, he said.

Dung added that Vietnam would continue to restructure its economy, promote infrastructure programmes, push for administrative reforms, and put more emphasis on environmental protection.

In Vietnam, “we believe that the current crisis is… an opportunity to speed up restructuring, improve management and build the foundation for sustainable development,” he said.

Vietnam enjoyed 3.1 percent growth in the first quarter and expects five percent growth this year despite the global crisis, he said.

Despite the downturn, he said: “We believe that Vietnam will still be a dynamic economy and a reliable destination for investors.”

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iQtaqkVV_AnRVkERbEw3iWB4esSg

Vietnam govt seeks to lower growth target

Vietnams lawmakers should lower the countrys economic growth target, a senior official has said

Vietnam's lawmakers should lower the country's economic growth target, a senior official has said

HANOI (AFP) — Vietnam’s lawmakers should lower the country’s economic growth target to around five percent in the face of an economic slowdown, a senior official said Wednesday.

The government asked the National Assembly to agree to reduce this year’s target from the previous goal of 6.5 percent, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Sinh Hung said at the opening of the legislature.

A lower target is required “to create momentum for better and more sustainable development in the following years,” he said, urging legislators to make the economy’s health their top priority.

The communist country’s economy expanded by 6.18 percent last year, its lowest level in almost a decade, and Hanoi said first-quarter growth was 3.1 percent, the worst on record.

But Vietnam was one of the few countries with growth in the first quarter of the year while the world’s major economies battled recession.

Hung said the global financial and economic crisis is difficult to forecast and continues to have a negative impact on Vietnam.

“Our difficulties remain numerous”, he said, although “there have been signs that we have got out of the most difficult period”.

The global downturn has hurt Vietnam’s exports, tourist arrivals, and private sector investment, Hung said.

The World Bank has estimated 5.5 percent growth for Vietnam this year and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) predicts 3.5 percent.

“It’s still going to be a tough global environment that Vietnam faces,” the IMF’s country representative, Benedict Bingham, told AFP.

Hung said that because of the downturn, state revenues have fallen while spending demands have risen, particularly for demand stimulation and social security expenditures.

The National Assembly will be asked to approve a maximum eight percent budget over-spending in 2009 to allow for the needed expenditures, Hung said.

In December the government announced a stimulus plan worth about one billion dollars.

During its 28-day sitting — almost all of which is behind closed doors — the assembly is expected to revise tax law as part of its effort to stimulate demand, officials said previously.

http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5h46xwAETss32GwAaTJsu031uIO_A

Vietnam environmental review of Chinese-run bauxite mines stalled

Hanoi – Vietnam’s environment minister completed a fact-finding visit to controversial bauxite mines, but officials said Monday no progress has been made on a promised environmental
review of the projects.

Minister of Natural Resources and Environment Pham Khoi Nguyen visited several active and proposed bauxite mines in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region last week. The mines, to be operated by the Chinese state-owned Aluminium Corporation of China Limited, have drawn public criticism for environmental and security reasons.

In late April Vietnam’s Politburo, the Communist Party’s governing body, ordered the projects frozen pending an environmental impact report.

But Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry Le Duong Quang told the German Press Agency dpa no progress had been made on the report.

‘We plan to produce this report, but we have not decided to assign it to any specific agencies,’ Quang said.

Quang said the bauxite projects had been approved before a new law requiring environmental impact reports. He said the agency had been unable to meet Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s 2007 request for an environmental report on the mines.

‘We could not produce this report because at that time, we did not have any money to carry it out,’ Quang said.

Doan Van Kien, chairman of the Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Group (VINACOMIN), a partner in the mining projects, said his company was not responsible for researching the environmental impact of the Chinese-run projects.

National Assembly deputy Nguyen Lan Dung, a biologist who has criticized the proposed mines, praised the government’s response to the issue despite the lack of progress on a study.

During a visit to the port city of Haiphong Saturday, Dung was confronted by citizens concerned about the bauxite projects and promised a strict review for environmental impact and to ensure they created jobs for Vietnamese workers.

Scientists have criticized the bauxite projects on environmental grounds. Bauxite mining generates five tons of caustic red sludge for each ton of aluminum ore it produces.

Other critics, including revered 97-year-old General Vo Nguyen Giap, have focused on what they term the national security risk of allowing Chinese companies access to the strategically important Central Highlands.

Still others have complained that the Chinese companies are importing thousands of unskilled Chinese laborers rather than hiring local Vietnamese workers.

The Politburo’s directive in April mandated that imported labor be confined to highly skilled workers and that unskilled jobs go to Vietnamese locals.

Read more: http://www.monstersandcritics.com/news/asiapacific/news/article_1476388.php/Vietnam_environmental_review_of_Chinese-run_bauxite_mines_stalled_#ixzz0GYwBvNXJ&B

Australian Mining Technology Cos Seek To Invest In Vietnam

HANOI -(Dow Jones)- Representatives from 15 Australian mining technology firms will visit Vietnam later this month to seek investment opportunities in the country’s mining industry, Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment said Monday.

During the three-day visit starting Monday, the delegation will hold talks with state-run Vietnam National Coal-Mineral Industries Group and visit the Sin Quyen Copper Mine and Tang Loong Copper Refining Plant in the northern province of Lao Cai, the ministry said in a statement.

The delegation will introduce their mining technologies and services to mining firms in Vietnam, the ministry added.

-By Vu Trong Khanh, Dow Jones Newswires; 844 35123042; trong-khanh.vu@ dowjones.com

http://www.nasdaq.com/aspx/stock-market-news-story.aspx?storyid=200905110023dowjonesdjonline000012&title=australian-mining-technology-cos-seek-to-invest-in-vietnam

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.

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