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Vietnam: Zero Duties for Rice, Tobacco–zero-duties-for-rice–tobacco/

Vietnam agreed yesterday to waive all duties on a total of 300,000 tons of rice and 3,000 tons of dried tobacco exported annually from Cambodia to the country, according to a bilateral agreement signed at two back-to-back summits to promote economic cooperation in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

The bilateral trade enhancement agreement between Vietnam and Cambodia, signed in Hanoi by Commerce Minister Pan Sorasak and the Vietnamese Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh at the 7th Ayeyawady-Chao Phraya-Mekong Economic Cooperation Strategy Summit (ACMECS 7) and the 8th Cambodia-Laos-Myanmar-Vietnam Cooperation Summit (CLMV 8), also gives special preferential treatment to 39 export items from Cambodia and 29 items from Vietnam.

Soeng Sophary, spokesperson at Cambodia’s Ministry of Commerce, told Khmer Times yesterday that the bilateral agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam had been signed several years ago, but had expired recently.

“So both parties took advantage of these summits to renew it, and at the same time add new items that would be given tariff-free status by two countries,” said Ms. Sophary.

Ms. Sophary, however, clarified that this was the first agreement between Cambodia and Vietnam that included Cambodian rice exports to the neighboring country.

“These rice exports will have to pass through customs checkpoints at the border to crackdown on smuggling and ‘unofficial exports’,” she said.

Ms. Sophary stressed that since Vietnam is one of the leading rice producers in the Mekong region, Cambodia was not expected to export too much rice to its neighbor. However, she said, the agreement was more focused on strengthening diplomatic ties through trade.

“The bilateral agreement has also paved the way for the private sector to be greater involved in trade between Cambodia and Vietnam,” she said.

“Vietnam may not have premium rice like Cambodia, so somehow they need those kinds of premium rice. This is where the private sector can fill in the gap.”

According to the Viet Nam News’ website, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc addressed the opening of the summits.

He reportedly said the CLMV and ACMECS have contributed to important achievements, such as promoting the socio-economic development of each country, helping with the establishment of the Asean Community and aiding peace and stability in the region.

“We are presented with excellent opportunities for the development of CLMV and ACMECS. At these summits, we will discuss new landscapes and together work out ways and means to build dynamic and competitive economies with sustainable and inclusive growth,” Mr. Xuan Phuc was quoted as saying by Viet Nam News.

15.6 million Vietnamese spend $1.4bn on smoking: survey

About 15.6 million adults in Vietnam consumed tobacco last year, the Ministry of Health announced Tuesday, citing findings of a global survey.

Vietnamese smokers spent VND31 trillion (US$1.39 billion) on cigarettes, or VND2.7 million ($121) per person per year, according to the Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) 2015.

The GATS, a World Health Organization-backed initiative, was conducted last year in Vietnam by the Hanoi Medical University and the General Statistics Office.

The survey found that besides traditional cigarettes, there is an increase in using e-cigarettes, sisha, and chewing tobacco among adults in the country, the health ministry confirmed at a conference to announce its results in Hanoi.

The percentage of adults smoking e-cigarettes has risen to 0.4 percent in men and 0.1 percent in women. About 0.1 percent of adults also consume sisha, while 1.4 percent of the population use chewing tobacco, according to the survey.

The good news is that only 45.3 percent of men aged 15 and above smoked in 2015, compared to 47.4 percent a year earlier.

The smoking rate among men in urban areas also decreased from 45 percent in 2010 to 38.7 percent last year.

The survey also said that raising tobacco taxes proved to be an effective solution in reducing smoking.

The Ministry of Health’s spokesperson said that many countries had banned e-cigarettes due to the density of nicotine stored in the devices, which is more harmful than traditional cigarettes.

The Global Adult Tobacco Survey (GATS) is a nationally representative household survey launched in February 2007 as a new component of the ongoing Global Tobacco Surveillance System (GTSS), the WHO said on its website.

The GATS enables countries to collect data on adult tobacco use and key tobacco control measures.

Topics covered in GATS include the prevalence of tobacco use, knowledge, attitudes as well as perceptions, economics, and more.

Is TPP a public health threat?

The Government should bar certain industries from exploiting the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) lest they damage public health, health activists warned recently.

The historic free trade agreement is set to create a freer flow of commerce and win-win trade among its members by establishing a level playing field for all parties and investors.

Yet it might challenge the Government to implement measures to protect the public health when some industries, like tobacco and alcohol, take advantage of the TPP to expand their businesses, said Mary Sunta, a senior policy consultant of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

She addressed the issue at a workshop on the impacts of TPP on public health held in Ha Noi yesterday.

“As far as I am concerned, there are seven chapters in the TPP vulnerable to any challengers of the tobacco industry,” Sunta said.

Those chapters include provisions regarding tariff removal, which could result in lower cigarette prices and a cigarette package without pictorial warnings.

“As a matter of fact, applying a higher tariff/tax on cigarettes and its selling prices is proven to be the most effective strategy to reduce the tobacco demand in the short-term,” Sunta said.

Statistics of the World Health Organisation (WHO) show that Viet Nam is ranked 15th in the world in terms of the number of smokers – about 40 per cent of men smoke.

About 72,800 people died of tobacco-caused diseases, equal to a loss of roughly US$78 million every year, according to the Tobacco Atlas.

TPP’s provisions are likely to cause a similar headache for the Government in another health-affected industry in Viet Nam that has shown remarkable growth in the last decade: the alcohol industry.

Member parties of the TPP committed to bring the tariffs of alcoholic beverages, from beer to wine and whiskies, down to zero over a 12-year span.

The TPP enactment is expected to open wide the door for foreign alcoholic beverage manufacturers, especially from the US, into the Vietnamese market, which has already been seeing a strong growth of demand averaging 10 per cent a year.

Efforts to force higher price tags on the beverages to reduce the alcohol consumption are deemed difficult for the Vietnamese Government due to the tariff removal commitment in the TPP, while criticism from other states and alcohol manufacturers might hurt Viet Nam in implementing other measures, like limiting advertisement and stamping health warnings on the products. Those measures are likely to be categorised as technical barriers to trade.

Dispute settlement

The TPP includes a legal mechanism to settle disputes between foreign investors and their host country, called the ISDS (Investor-State Dispute Settlement). Under the IDSD, foreign investors can legally challenge host state regulations outside that country’s courts.

The ISDS has been used several times since its introduction in international trade agreements, most notably by the tobacco industry.

Many countries like Thailand, Australia, Uruguay and Sri Lanka were sued by tobacco companies when they tried to pass a law on the cigarette packaging to raise public awareness of the dangers of smoking.

The ISDS is also available to claims by alcohol or asbestos producers.

“Asbestos was found to cause cancers since 2001. Any companies that import, distribute and use asbestos should be exempted from the IDSD provision,” said Tran Tuan from the Advocacy Network on Banning Asbestos Use in Viet Nam (VN-BAN).

Viet Nam is among the top 10 countries in the world using asbestos – a carcinogenic substance as categorised by the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

The historic TPP was signed on February 4, 2016 in Auckland by 12 states including Viet Nam, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, Chile, Peru, Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Mexico and the United States, after seven years of negotiations.

The trade agreement is awaiting ratification by each of its member countries before entering into force. Viet Nam expects to ratify the agreement late this year.

Celebs join no-tobacco event with 2,000 youths in Ho Chi Minh City

A number of Vietnamese celebrities took part Saturday in an event in Ho Chi Minh City, calling people to say no to tobacco.

The event, taking place at the Youth Cultural House in District 1, was aimed to celebrate the World No Tobacco Day (May 31) and the National Anti-Tobacco Week.

The ceremony attracted nearly 2,000 youths, hailing from citywide universities and colleges, besides such public figures as film directors Le Hoang and Dinh Anh Dung, actress Lan Phuong, and local singers Duc Tuan, Van Mai Huong, Noo Phuoc Thinh and Quoc Thien.

The celebs treated the young audience to various performances, then joined them in discussions meant to encourage abstinence from all forms of tobacco consumption.

Singer Duc Tuan sent his message through a song named “Moi ngay toi chon mot niem vui,” which means “every day I choose a joy.”

“We can choose a meaningful thing to do when a new day arrives, but please never choose tobacco,” he told the audience.

When she was on stage, actress Lan Phuong was asked to comment on a common conception that smoking makes men look manly and stylistic.

“Manliness and maturity of a man are expressed via his behavior and manner, not the tobacco,” she replied.

The actress also hoped that a law that ban smoking in eateries, bars, coffee shops, and other public places, even in film studios, will soon be imposed.

The event wrapped up with a flash mob performed by many young people, followed by bicycle parade to encourage people to give up smoking.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Secretariat of the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control are calling on all countries to get ready for plain packaging of tobacco products.

Plain packaging is an important demand reduction measure that reduces the attractiveness of tobacco products, restricts use of tobacco packaging as a form of tobacco advertising and promotion, limits misleading packaging and labeling, and increases the effectiveness of health warnings, WHO said on its website.

For the World Tobacco Day 2016, the Vietnamese Ministry of Health has also launched a campaign called “Life without smoke.”

Chinese, Vietnamese eye projects in tobacco industry

TALKS are underway between the government and investors from Vietnam and China to put up investment projects in tobacco processing and cigarette manufacturing.

Trade, Industry and Investment minister Charles Mwijage told the National Assembly yesterday that the government is on the right course to bring such investors to engage in production of cigarettes and also to set up tobacco processing factories in regions where the crop is grown.

The minister was responding to a basic question from Tabora Urban Member of Parliament Emanuel Mwakasaka (CCM) who wanted to know government’s plans to set up a tobacco processing factory in Tabora region.

The MP argued that despite being a leading tobacco producer, Tabora Region has for many years lacked a factory to process the cash crop. In response, the minister said that it is the commitment of the Fifth Phase Government to ensure that every region has a factory depending on crops produced in that particular area or other economic activity.

He said last year Tabora Region produced 39,502 tons of tobacco which were all ferried to Morogoro Region for processing and value addition. Tobacco produced in Tabora and other regions of the country is being processed at the Morogoro-based two factories of Tanzania Tobacco Processing Limited (TTPL) and Alliance One Tobacco (AOTT).

Mwijage said that this Sunday a team of investors from China will visit the Tabora Region to study the environment before deciding to set up a factory.

“Our aim is to have serious investors who will be manufacturing cigarettes which conform to international standards using the locally-produced raw material,” he said. He said the move will help farmers have a reliable market and to create more employment opportunities for Tanzanians.

He also said that he has already tasked his Permanent Secretary responsible for Investment to meet with his counterparts in the ministries of agriculture and labour to chart out areas where social security funds can invest.

He was responding to Mwakasaka’s supplementary question on efforts to engage pension funds in building and developing factories in the country. The minister’s directive to his PS came few days after President John Magufuli advised pension funds to change their mindsets and start investing in building factories.

The President had hinted that by eyeing the setting up of factories, the pension funds will register benefits in a short period of time while creating more employment opportunities.

The minister also said that his ministry has already surveyed key areas in Kigoma which government wants investors to focus as the region has good infrastructure to facilitate investment activities. According to Mwijage, areas of investment include palm tree growing, cement and sugar industries.

Vietnamese tobacco firm banned from producing cigarettes of Indonesian brands

Vietnam’s Ministry of Science and Technology has barred a Vietnamese cigarette producer from registering and producing two brands of an Indonesian tobacco company, citing its recent document sent to the Government Office and the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The document states that the Science and Technology Ministry disapproves of Vietnam National Tobacco Corporation (Vinataba) registering JET and HERO – two products of Sumatra Tobacco Trading Company (STTC) – as the North Sumatra-based firm had objected to such a move.

In July 2015, Vinataba’s leader, via a lawyer, claimed in a proposal to the national office of intellectual property that STTC had not registered the trademarks in Vietnam for the past five years without reason, thus requesting to register the aforementioned, the ministry said.

The Vietnamese company also said it would produce the two types of cigarettes or their equivalents, reasoning that the two brands are contraband goods in Vietnam and STTC is involved in an illegal trade, the ministry added.

But the proposal was denied due to a lack of evidence that proved STTC was involved in smuggling, notwithstanding the fact that smuggling is not a legal ground to force the firm to cancel its trademarks since the products are officially retailed by its partner in Vietnam, namely Southern Airports Services Joint Stock Company.

The Science and Technology Ministry thus “granted no approval to the trademark cancelation proposal by Vinataba.”

A spokesperson of the industry-trade ministry said that Vinataba has little to no chance to register JET and HERO, adding that the firm would produce none of the brands, stating that such products are manufactured only after the trademark registration has been done.

The two brands are not the cause of tobacco smuggling in Vietnam, the Indonesian company asserted.

JET and HERO products account for more than 90 percent of the contraband cigarette market in Vietnam, according to the Vietnam Tobacco Association.

Both of the products breach a number of regulations on tobacco management stipulated by Vietnamese law, the association said.

JET and HERO brands are sold without the picture-based health warning, place and year of manufacture, nor the expiration date.

The toxicity of the two products is also far higher than the rates allowed by the Vietnamese Ministry of Health.

It is estimated that smoking will cause sickness or early death in 2.3 million Vietnamese even if they only smoke one cigarette a day.

Cigarette trafficking occurs at the Vietnam-Cambodia border gates including Svayrieng in Long An Province, Bavet and Moc Bai in Tay Ninh Province, and Ta Mau Kirivong and Xa Xia in Tay Ninh, domestic newswire VietnamNet revealed.

In 2013, 21.9 billion untaxed and illegal cigarettes were smuggled into Vietnam, said a report by Oxford Economics and the International Tax and Investment Center in September 2014.

A 2013 report by the Vietnam Tobacco Association showed that the country consumed a total of 4.174 billion packs of cigarettes in 2012.