~ Le ViÍt Nam, aujourd'hui. ~
The Vietnam News

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Vietnam investor forum seeks to overcome gripes

HANOI - Foreign business groups in Vietnam, in a meeting with the government next Monday, will review pressing concerns and suggest solutions for future success in the communist-ruled country.
Outside investment in Vietnam has been dwindling as economic reform has fallen short of expectations.

But Anthony Salzman, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi, said on Friday the creation late last year of a Private Sector Forum (PSF), which takes in all foreign business groups in Vietnam, was a major step forward for prospects in the country.

``This is the most important business-to-government dialogue that has taken place,'' he said in an interview.
Salzman is also president of V-TRAC Infrastructure Development Company, the authorised dealer in Vietnam for heavy equipment maker Caterpillar Inc.
He said that through bringing the PSF to operate as part of Vietnam's Consultative Group (CG) of bilateral and multilateral donors, a broad understanding of important economic and regulatory concerns could be created which would benefit the country's future development.

On Monday the PSF is expected to present Hanoi with an overview of the current state of the economy, review progress on seven already identified problems, and possibly raise further issues of concern, foreign investors have said.
The seven detailed issues to be reviewed were brought up by foreign business representatives in March at a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Nguyen Manh Cam.
These issues include the widely disliked and discriminatory policy of dual pricing where foreign firms are charged more than their Vietnamese counterparts for certain services, restrictive labour rules, convoluted investment conditions and limited access to foreign exchange.
Wolfgang Bertelsmeier, country manager in Vietnam for the International Finance Corporation, the World Bank's commercial lending arm, said the Forum was a unique initiative that promised tangible results.

``We are really doing things here that I think are quite at the cutting edge as far as dialogues between the private sector and governments are concerned...for anywhere in the world,'' Bertelsmeier, who is also PSF chairman, told Reuters.
The PSF will meet with the government in the northern port city of Hai Phong, 105 km (65 miles) east of Hanoi, as part of a mid-year review meeting between Vietnam and its donors.

International donors to the country in the past couple of years have urged Hanoi to speed reform to combat growing frustration among foreign investors and lay the foundation for sustained economic growth.
``The private sector has been stretched so far that promises are no longer of any value,'' Salzman said. ``There are some steps that are positive but before I can applaud I have to see tangible business results.''
The PSF was formed in the wake of a landmark meeting in February 1998, chaired by Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, which for the first time brought together the government and foreign investors.

``After that meeting with the prime minister it was felt useful and relevant to include the private sector in the CG group framework,'' Salzman said.
``This logic stemmed from the belief that the development of the country could not be accomplished only with development aid,'' he added, highlighting issues such as how to attract private funds to support development and the attractiveness of Vietnam to foreign investors.

Salzman said the PSF had no political agenda and its aims were strictly limited to improving the business climate.

Reuters - June 11, 1999.