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Iran commerce minister visits Vietnam for talks

11 January 2005
Al-Bawaba News

Iran`s Commerce Minister Mohammad Shariatmadari arrivedin Hanoion Monday to hold talks with his Vietnamese counterpart.

At the airport, Shariatmadari, heading a delegation, was greeted by Vietnamese deputy minister of agriculture and Iran`s Ambassador to Hanoi Hossein Molla Abdollahi.

Shariatmadarialso serves as the Iranian chairman of the Iran-Vietnam Joint Commission.The fourth session of the joint commission to be held on Tuesday will be co-chaired by Iran`s minister of commerce and Vietnam`s minister of agriculture.


Vietnam could be number 4 tourism destination

Wednesday, 12 January 2005

Vietnam could become the fourth most popular world destination in 10 years, but its tourism sector is still weak, with the traveller return rate a disappointing 15 per cent, according to regional tourism experts.
The two big questions that set the theme for the "cooperation to develop the tourism industry in Vietnam" seminar in Hanoi on December 16 were: "why do only 15 per cent of travellers return to Vietnam for a second visit?" and "how can we increase this rate?"
Vietnam's traveller return rate of 15 per cent is much too low compared to the regional average of 40 per cent, Stephen Yong, development director of the Pacific Association of Travel Agencies (PATA) said.
Research programmes have showed that 50 per cent of travellers consider airfares as the major factor for those considering coming back, explained Mr. Yong. When Thailand recently reduced airfares for the Hong Kong to Thailand route, the volume of Hong Kong travellers to Thailand immediately surged, he said. Vietnam is just too expensive to fly to, he concluded.
Additionally tourism services in Vietnam still cost an arm and a leg, he added. To make matters worse, promotion campaigns to "sell" Vietnam as a destination so far are inefficient, said Mr. Yong. PATA representatives also called on the Vietnamese government to abolish troublesome regulations and procedures for tourists.
According to tourism experts' estimates, Vietnam may become the fourth largest destination in the world in 10 years. "With such an opportunity, why does Vietnam's tourism industry still hesitate in mapping out a strategic, open-door business policy?" asked Mr. Sebastien.


Vietnam : Footwear exports gains Vietnam fourth spot

11th January 2005

With a total export turnover of US$ 2.6 billion in 2004, Vietnam ranks fourth among top footwear exporters in the world after China, Hong Kong and Italy. It shows a rise of 15 percent vis--vis the previous year.

Sport shoes and shoes for women gain preferential access of the EU markets and are not under any restrictions of exports.

With the US market having a huge potential for Vietnamese footwear as the country enjoy's the MFN (most favored nation) status, footwear exports particularly for sport and leather shoes, slippers and sandals, holds bright prospects.


Vietnamese president gets US$240 monthly salary

11 January 2005
AP via Yahoo!

HANOI, Vietnam (AP) - Despite a recent pay rise, President Tran Duc Luong's salary is only 3.77 million dong (US$240; euro183) a month, a state-controlled newspaper reported Tuesday.
Communist Party General Secretary Nong Duc Manh, the most powerful man in the country, is paid the same as the president, while Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Van An are paid 152,000 dong (US$10; euro7.60) less, Thanh Nien (Young Newspaper) said.
It was the first time the salaries of Vietnam's leaders have been revealed to the public.
The newspaper also reported that elite politburo members are paid 3.393 million dong (US$216; euro165), while ministers earn from 2.813 million dong to 2.987 million dong (US$180 to US$190; euro137 to euro145) a month.
Four-star generals earn 3.016 million dong (US$192; euro146), it said. An official from the labor ministry said the government increased the monthly salary for civil servants by an average of 31.5 percent effective from Oct. 1
last year to offset Vietnam's 9.5 percent inflation rate. Vietnam's minimum monthly salary is 290,000 dong (US$18; euro13.74). Despite robust economic growth of more than 7 percent in recent years, Vietnam
remains one of the poorest countries in the world with GDP per capita of about US$550 (euro420).


Vietnam To Inject VND400B Of Bonds Into Two State Banks

11 January 2005

HANOI (Dow Jones)--Vietnam's Ministry of Finance will inject VND400 billion worth of government bonds into two state-owned commercial banks this month, completing its plans to raise working capital for the banking sector, a government official said Tuesday.
The two banks are Vietcombank and Incombank, Pham Phan Dung, director of the ministry's bank and credit organizations, told Dow Jones Newswires.
When the bonds are injected, the government will have completed its recapitalization plans for five state banks, an effort that began in 2002, the official said.
"After three years, the five state banks have received VND10.7 trillion in the form of special 20-year government bonds that will offer the banks an annual coupon of 3.3%," Dung said. The bonds can be traded after five years, he said. The three other banks that have also been included in this recapitalization program are Vietnam's Bank for Agriculture & Rural Development, or Agribank; the
Bank for Investment & Development of Vietnam, or Vietindebank; and Mekong Housing Development Bank. These three banks were recapitalized earlier.
"The government will continue raising the operational capacity of these banks, which account for about 70% the country's loans, in the coming months, to help them better compete when Vietnam joins the World Trade Organization later this year," Dung said.
These banks will continue to raise their registered capital and other working practices to meet international standards, he said. Vietnam targets to join the world trade body in December.
State media recently cited the country's central bank governor Le Duc Thuy as saying that Vietnam's banking sector had a bad debt ratio of 4.6% by the end of 2004, but domestic observers say that the real ratio ought be much higher. Vietnam's lending growth was more than 25% on year in 2004, of which
dong-denominated loans were up 24% on year while dollar-denominated loans rose 28.3%, according to the central bank's figures.


Ho Chi Minh City goes furthest and fastest in market makeover

12 January 2005
South China Morning Post

A sleek new brochure produced by the municipal government awaits those considering putting money into Ho Chi Minh City.

On the cover is a large image of a hand holding up a butterfly net, poised to catch US dollar notes as they float down from the sky. Directly below that is the city Department of Planning and Investment's motto for wooing investors: "Running the Extra Mile For You."

It is a stark contrast to the staid, patriarchal tone of most government publications in communist-run Vietnam. But Ho Chi Minh City, 30 years after the city then called Saigon was captured to end the Vietnam war, is blazing the trail for the country's transition to a market economy.

Progressive business policies helped the metropolis hit 11.6 per cent in gross domestic product growth last year, its highest in six years and 50 per cent better than the national rate.

About 150 high-rises are planned for the next 18 months. Fast-food chains are proliferating. Luxury cars fight for road space with legions of motorcycles. And in a country where less than 10 per cent of people use the internet, 50 per cent of Ho Chi Minh's new businesses now register for licences on the city's website.

"We stress the investment environment and trade at all levels of the local government," said the city's top political figure, Le Thanh Hai, chairman of the People's Committee, in a rare interview.

This business-boosting approach is not new. Shifting from the disastrous collectivised economy of the post-war years to a "market economy with a socialist orientation" has been the national policy for 19 years.

But Ho Chi Minh City has gone further and faster than anywhere else. It now accounts for almost one-fifth of Vietnam's GDP, despite being home to less than one-tenth of its population.

While the national target is to become fully industrialised by 2020, Ho Chi Minh leaders already give industry a back seat to the services sector.

Professional services such as banking, tourism and trade are expected to reach 50 per cent of the local economy this year.

While Ho Chi Minh City stands at the forefront of Vietnam's market makeover, it also exemplifies many of its transitional troubles. Slums line the banks of the Saigon River, pollution is worsening and corruption remains widespread.

The streets are clogged with traffic; there are at least 1,500 motorbikes for every public bus.
"They're barely staying ahead of the bullet on transport," said Fred Burke, managing partner of the Baker & McKenzie legal firm's Vietnam headquarters in the city.

"You can't keep developing economically if people can't get anywhere to do anything."

The city has ambitious plans for rapid transit but still needs to find the money to finance them.

The same challenge faces the drive to bring solid-waste collection, clean water and other infrastructure up to modern city standards. Luong Van Ly, vice-director of the Department of Planning and Investment, calls it the city's No 1 problem.

"Ho Chi Minh City was built in the 19th century for 200,000 people," Mr Ly said. "Now we have 7 million. But because of the war, and the lack of money and attention from authorities after the war, infrastructure was not developed adequately," he said.

"So we are now facing some very acute problems."


Buddhist monk heads home to Vietnam after 38 years in exile

12 January 2005

PARIS : Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who has built an international following during 38 years in exile, left France to return to his home country for the first time since 1967.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who hailed what he called the Vietnamese government's "effort at opening up" before boarding an Air France flight from Paris to Hanoi, said he hoped to teach across Vietnam for the next three months.

The monk, who received an entry visa at the end of last year, also plans to set up Buddhist meditation centers during his stay.

"The Vietnam that I left nearly 40 years ago no longer exists," said the monk, smiling and sipping tea before his flight from Charles de Gaulle airport.

Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately referred to as 'Thay' or 'Master' by his followers, said he hoped to "dispel the doubts and fears" of the Vietnamese government about his church and teachings.

The monk, who is in his late 70s, studied comparative religion at Princeton University in the United States in the early 1960s. Returning home in 1963 as war raged, he was sent into exile by Vietnamese authorities in 1967.

Thich Nhat Hanh then gained asylum in France, where he began teaching at the Sorbonne in Paris. He later headed the Buddhist delegation to talks that led to the Paris peace accords in 1973.

In 1982, he moved to southwest France, where he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery and retreat that is home year-round to 150 monks, nuns and resident lay practitioners.

A delegation of 200 followers, mainly from France and the United States, will accompany Thich Nhat Hanh on his initial three-month visit to Vietnam.

Several dozen of them, wearing brown tunics and sporting shaved heads, meditated or performed stretching exercises in the hallways of Charles de Gaulle airport before Tuesday's flight.

"Things are not simple. I must listen closely. I'll be surrounded by 200 people trained to listen closely," the monk said.

Sister Chan Khong, a faithful assistant to Thich Nhat Hanh who has been a follower since 1960, said: "We want to put peace in people's hearts -- we have no ambition to take power."

The monk does not belong to the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), which was banned by authorities in 1981 for refusing to come under the ruling Communist Party's control.

Vietnamese security police launched a sweeping crackdown on the church more than a year ago, putting senior monks under house arrest and placing hundreds of pagodas under surveillance.

When asked why certain religious movements had been banned in Vietnam, Sister Chan Khong replied: "The flags of the old regime are hidden behind some of these churches. We have no political ambitions."