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Mon, Mar 20, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Investment buzz surrounds Vietnam


For the second time in a decade, investors are flocking to Vietnam attracted by rave reports about its hard-working, literate and low cost workforce and the country's dynamic economic growth.

Ten years ago the hype soon fizzled as many foreign companies found out the hard way that Asia's latest "tiger" had yet to change its command economy stripes, even before the buzz was dealt a fatal blow by the 1997 Asian crisis.

This time around there is talk of a "mini-China," an emerging investment alternative to the northern giant, with a government that is speeding up reforms in a bid to join the WTO this year.

"Ten years ago there were companies circling Vietnam," Virginia Foote, president of the US-Vietnam Trade Council, told the Vietnam Investment Forum conference in Hanoi last week.

"Some of them stayed, many of them went on," she said.

"I think there is a little bit of that sense now with investment capital, there is a lot of it," she told the packed auditorium. "There's obviously a fair amount of it in this room."

A lot has happened since the 1990s, when Vietnam opened up to the world. The US lifted its embargo in 1994 and the former enemies signed a trade pact in 2000, triggering a surge of Vietnamese exports.

The southern Mekong Delta, a bloody battleground a generation ago, is now a vast industrial zone where chipmaker Intel is setting up shop amid hundreds of garment, shoe and electronics factories.

The economy has grown at around 7 percent annually in recent years and foreign direct investment per capita in the nation of 82 million was larger than China's last year.

In November Vietnam, which joined ASEAN in 1995, will host the annual APEC summit which will bring leaders including US President George W Bush.

HSBC Vietnam president and CEO Alan Cany listed Vietnam's key attractions: "cheap but high quality labor, political and social stability, good location."

Nike Vietnam chief Amanda Tucker said the sportswear maker chose Vietnam in part because "we don't want to put all our supply eggs in the China basket."

She added a note of caution to the giddy talk, saying "the growth rates currently in the country are definitely taxing the system."

"A number of our contract factories here have issues with constant supply of power, roads, port capacity," she said, adding that recent strikes indicated poor worker-management communication.

Foote, too, cautioned that Vietnam needed to enforce many reforms that existed on paper by fighting copyright piracy, improving corporate auditing and leveling the playing field for foreign companies.

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