South East Asia: Focus on Vietnam

by Emilio Labrador
by Emilio Labrador

Vietnam is Asia’s third largest economic area. Currently, it has 600 million inhabitants, a figure that is set to increase to 700 million by 2020. This makes it a great investment hub for businesses looking at medium- and long-term investments.

Vietnam’s GDP is approximately €150bn. The streets are bustling with motorbikes and cars, indicative of many in the region having a steady income. This means poverty is decreasing. Still, there is a lot that can be done to make the area an even more attractive place for businesses to prosper. And that is where the government comes into play. The government needs to facilitate the business launching process, make infrastructure as smooth as possible and combat corruption where it exists. With this, economic growth will advance.

It seems that the government is already being cooperative in this endeavor. On November 17, a license was secured from the government by South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., to expand its production in the northern part of the country. Samsung intends to invest up to $3bn in Vietnam for its handset trade, in an attempt to reduce prices and gain a higher edge in the competitive market against other Chinese rivals.

Vietnamese Investment Interests

Laos, Land of Opportunity?

Just yesterday, a seminar took place on investment possibilities and cooperation at the Laos Vietnamese embassy.  Over two hundred Vietnamese business representatives were in attendance.  Ta Minh Chau, Vietnamese Ambassador, addressed the seminar and pointed out that Laos is a “peaceful country” with huge potential in many areas, especially financial.  Vietnam and Laos have a “special relationship,” with significant support from the Lao Government that has worked hard to establish optimistic and facilitative conditions for the thriving of Vietnamese business investments there.

Indeed, such good relations can be witnessed in the success various Vietnamese businesses are enjoying in Laos, most notably, the Hoang anh-Gia Lai Group, Lao-Viet Bank, Long Thanh Golf, and Song Da Corporation.

In addition, there are many areas in Laos that Vietnamese businesses could be interested in, such as: coffee, rubber, cotton, banking, agriculture and more.  According to a news report the embassy was asked to give Vietnamese  businesses, “information on the legal requirements of both countries to facilitate their investment in Laos.”

It seems that Laos is quite a popular place for foreign investments these days.  According to the Investment Promotion Department of the Ministry Planning and Investment, India is now ranking in the top 10 foreign investors there with more than $359m.  Other countries on the list are: Australia, China, France, Japan, India, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.  Thailand is definitely the number one investor, ranking in at over $2bn.  The most popular area for investment is the field of electricity.

Vietnam and Myanmar’s Cooperative Talks

Hoang Trung Hai, Vietnam’s Deputy Prime Minister, recently met with the Minister of Agriculture and Irrigation in Myanmar, U Myint Hlaing, as well as the Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Tin Naing Thein. Topics on the discussion table included cooperation in fields “in accordance with the guidance of the two countries’ leaders.” Economic cohesion was also discussed with an agreement on “early implementation of specific projects and acceleration of the implementation of the existing agreements.”

Big Talks

Other major areas such as politics and diplomacy were also on the discussion table and an agreement between the two countries was made vis-à-vis delegation exchange “at all levels” as well as “people-to-people exchange.” When it came to what can be done to increase regional cooperation, there is already much of this in place. For example, the support Vietnam has lent to Myanmar’s “bid to assume ASEAN 2014 Chairmanship.” As for Myanmar, it reiterated its position vis-à-vis ASEAN East Sea issues “respecting the implementation of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) signed between ASEAN and China, and towards the Code of Conduct in the East Sea (COC).”

More Support

In addition, the opening ceremony of the Vietnam and Myanmar business cooperation conference that Thiha Thura Tin Aung Myint Oo and Hai (VP and Deputy PM of Vietnam) attended in Nay Pyi Taw took place. This was definitely a big cheering contest by both countries, of both countries’ huge achievements and efforts over the years of increased cooperation.

Additional Asian Alliance

Turkey and Vietnam Need to Join Forces

It seems that if there was greater cooperation between Vietnam and Turkey, the economy climates of both countries would greatly benefit. According to an article in the Vietnam News, they need to get on to this though and start making real efforts so that they will thrive. This is the case for many areas such as: “economics, education and training, [and] science and technology.” It was just two days ago that Nguyen Tan Dung, the Prime Minister of Vietnam, spoke about this in a statement in which he “received outgoing Turkish Ambassador Ates Oktem in Ha Noi.” He had been impressed with the Ambassador’s efforts in his time in office which helped “develop the Vietnam-Turkish friendship and co-operation.”

Better Buddies

Although there is still a way to go, things have for sure improved between Turkey and Vietnam in the last few years. For example, just last year, trading between the two countries reached US$850m. At the moment, Turkey and Vietnam are in the process of signing an “investment encouragement and double taxation avoidance agreements.” It is anticipated that these will really give a jumpstart to economic cooperation and partnerships between the two countries.

Put Differences Aside

It is true that there has been tension between the two countries over the years. But imagine what would happen if these were totally put to one side? As it is business between Turkey and Vietnam is booming and got to almost $1bn last year, even with the current political instability. There has been a steady increase of trade between the two countries over the last few years “from almost nothing to $857m in 2010.” In 2002, this figure was just a little more than $100m.

It is Turkey that is vehement in trying to improve relations with Vietnam and working hard towards this goal. It intends to “appoint a trade counselor” to its Hanoi embassy. Vietnam is home to around 86 million people and is the world’s 13th biggest population. So it’s worth everyone working closely with Vietnam, but especially Turkey.

Thailand Cambodian Trade News

Border Clashes Negatively Impact Trade

There’s going to be trouble with the Asian economy, and a lot of it. That’s if the situation between Thailand and Cambodia continues. Currently the border clashes there are so detrimental to good sentiments between the two countries, that even though trade is developing, without an end to these clashes, the market share of Thailand goods in Cambodia will be reduced.

According to Kasikorn Research Center (KRC), what will happen is that Thai exporters and potential business investors will lose confidence in placing their businesses in Cambodia. In addition, other countries will start putting pressure on them to take business elsewhere, especially Vietnam.

Good Trading Between Thailand and Cambodia

But it would be a real shame if things went sour. Investment between Thailand and Cambodia has been increasing continuously over the last few years from $1.4bn in 2007 to $2.5bn in 2010. Thailand has been benefitting from this vis-à-vis trade. In addition, trade between the two countries accounts for at least 70 percent of overall trade – that is a huge amount that would be devastating for both places if it things stopped going well.

It’s not all been great news though. In March 2011 there was only a slight increase in export volume. Also, due to border clashes, there was a drop from 34.9 percent in 2008 to 29.9 percent in 2009. There was a large plummet of Thai investment in Cambodia from the 2008 figure of $30.7m to the 2010 figure of $1m.

Vietnam-Cambodia Trade Figures

Consequently there was additional merchandise from Vietnam to the Cambodian market with an increase of 19.5 percent in 2008 to 23.7 percent in 2009. But Vietnamese exports to Cambodia also increased in 2010 by a significant 35.3 percent, culminating in $1.5bn. But anyway Vietnam ranks as Cambodia’s largest investor with “an accumulated investment value of around $49.5m. Thailand comes in second at $47.2m, and Singapore in third place at $24.9m.

So there is work to be done. It would clearly be a huge economic shame if the political situation between Thailand and Cambodia wasn’t resolved – and fast.

Malaysia Strong Asian Investment Opportunity

Malaysia: Major Asia Asset

Just two days ago a $3.7bn investment announcement came from Malaysia, set to “to jumpstart foreign interest in its economy even as other Asian countries try to stem speculative inflows in search of higher-yielding markets.” The country’s Prime Minister (Najib Razak) intends to try and get $444bn worth of investments resulting in Malaysia becoming a “developed country by 2020,” including $165m by Asia Media to create digital media infrastructure as well as the establishment of a state-owned energy development agency to be able to attract $106m worth of investments this year. This is all part of the country’s “Economic Transformation Programme,” a project that is due to be put into practice over the next decade.

Other Asian Countries Less Successful

Malaysia has been doing pretty well recently vis-à-vis investments. Indeed it has already attracted around $5bn in pledges from Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell Pic as well as other (smaller) projects. For example Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand are having quite a few issues attracting investments anything near to the success of neighboring Malaysia.

But this hasn’t deterred Najib who is determined to ensure Malaysia stays one step ahead, “transforming [it] into a high-income economy within 10 years by generating new growth areas and restructuring the economy to lure investors.” Yet this goal is not as easy as it may seem. Investment blueprints from the past aren’t showing such great results. As well, in general the economy has been suffering from a less-than-skilled workforce to enable it to develop into the “financial services hub” it wants to. Yet it is past the stage of being a low-end manufacturing center,” as countries such as Vietnam now have that role.

Notorious Najib

Still, given all these efforts made by the country’s premier, the public is remaining loyal to Najib. Although one has only to look at the facts on the ground to see where the country really is, given that the exchange was down more than 5 percent from where it was just four years ago. While there is now more opportunity for competition, in general, investors are expecting the government to “take more aggressive steps to reduce its fiscal deficit and overhaul an affirmative action policy they say hinders competition.”

Malaysia PJ: Malaysia Post Japan’s Trauma

It might not have been a surprise if any parts of Asia – including Malaysia – would have been negatively impacted by Japan’s trauma. But in fact this hasn’t been the case, according to Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai, the country’s Deputy Finance Minister. He claimed that it will “have little impact on the Malaysian economy in 2011.” Vis-à-vis the country’s exports to Japan he said that actually some areas (like plywood and liquid natural gas) would actually probably “increase during the second quarter of this year as Japan increases its reconstruction work of earthquake-damaged areas.”

As well, Malaysia probably won’t be affected by Mid-East and North African troubles either since trade between those countries is anyway only at around 2 percent.

So all in all things are looking good right now for Malaysia. The country has developed a strong enough economy and excellent relations with regions with which to continue exporting to see it through any troubled times Asia may be encountering.

Global Sources Says That Rising Chinese Prices Drive Away Buyers

chinese-pricesGlobal Sources conducted a survey of 385 business buyers. According to the survey, a majority of purchasers pay prices that are too high for Chinese products. Chinese exports are losing their competitive edge against lower-cost countries, especially for low-price goods.

Sixty-eight percent of those answering the survey said that the yuan’s appreciation has changed their sourcing strategy regarding Chinese goods.

One-third of respondents predict that the yuan to will rise to 6.5 to the U.S. dollar during the next half year.

In response to the rising yuan, 54 percent said that they will import from less expensive countries such as Vietnam and India. However, buyers will still purchase from China for goods that have short delivery schedules or detailed specifications.

Global Sources’ President of Corporate Affairs, Craig Pepples said that “Given the changing price point of China products, China exporters must work harder to market themselves and justify higher prices in terms of service, product quality or production volume.”

The Foreign Investment Fund Targeting the Domestic Private Firms

The Fund for Southeast Asia ( ASEAF ) , created by Aureos ( Aureos Capital) , has decided to invest 4.2 million dollars in the stock company of the digital world Anh Tran .

“Vietnam is a country with a young population. Demand for electronic products, including computers, will see a sharp increase in times to come. We have chosen the company Tran Anh after careful studies of its business strategies and management,” informed Dô Doan Kien , head of representative office of Aureos Capital in Vietnam. Following in the footsteps of Aureos Capital, Vietnam Azalea Fund, a fund within Mekong Capital, has spent $ 9.1 million to repurchase 2.7 million shares (6.7% of capital ) of the Joint Stock Company Nam Long Investment.

For its part, VinaCapital Vietnam Opportunity Fund (VOF) has invested approximately $ 15 million in premium , a private group specializing in the production of tiles sanitary . Ditto for the repurchase of 7.5 % stake in Dragon Capital.

Mekong CapitalMany foreign funds are committed to investing in private companies . Mekong Capital said that it will create a new fund (Mekong III ) from 150 million this year to participate in the capital of non-state joint stock companies in Vietnam. Having made the investment in the company Tran Anh ASEAF mobilize capital to increase its share capital by 250 million dollars . SMEs are the target. “Vietnam is one of our six strategic markets for investment , ” said Doan Kien Doh , head of the representative office of Aureos Capital. “Within 10 years , Vietnamese companies will become the leading emerging companies in Southeast Asia. Private companies operating in many business sectors in Vietnam are helping to create investment opportunities for foreign funds,” said Paul Coleman, financial expert from Price Waterhouse Coopers Vietnam .