Government should set an example in the ‘buy Vietnam’ campaign

Published: 10/08/2009 05:00



VietNamNet Bridge – The call to use Vietnam’s goods should spur people to find ways to develop inner strength.

Senior economist Pham Chi Lan

Pham Chi Lan is former Deputy Chairwoman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, a former Member of the Prime Minister’s Research Team, and Deputy Director of the Institute for Development Studies. Tuoi Tre Daily asked her to comment on the ‘Buy Vietnamese’ campaign.

Ms. Lan noted that though the Government has many times called on Vietnamese people to use Vietnam-made goods, this is for the first time the Communist Party’s Politburo has made such an appeal. It’s the right way of thinking, she adds. Foreign direct investment (FDI) and exports can help Vietnam escape from poverty. However, only mobilizing inner strength will enable Vietnam and other countries in the world to become rich.

Tuoi Tre: A lot of our goods are losing out to foreign made products right in their home market, partly because we don’t trouble ourselves to find the Vietnamese products.

Lan: Not all Vietnamese-made goods are inferior to foreign made products on the domestic market, but we have to admit that foreign made goods have become available everywhere.

I feel uneasy when I see foreign made tea-things at many government agencies, even though Vietnam’s Hai Duong and Bat Trang porcelain is very good and cheap. Many big hotels use Bat Trang and Hai Duong china because it symbolizes Vietnam. I wonder why our officials don’t notice and do the same? It is partly because distribution channels in Vietnam still are problematic.

I think that the first thing we need to do is to communicate to the people that using domestically made goods not only shows their patriotism, but also helps Vietnamese enterprises become stronger and employ more people.

TT: Vietnamese enterprises will also have to improve themselves if they want their products to be consumed by Vietnamese customers.

Lan: Yes, you are right. They can’t just rely on simple patriotism. Our enterprises need to induce Vietnamese consumers to purchase their products by offering reasonable prices and high quality. They can’t just dump on the domestic market the ‘imperfects’ and mistakes that cannot be exported.

Businesses need to give this serious thought. In general, [companies in] other countries pay attention to whether Vietnamese enterprises are able to sell products on the home market to decide whether to import such products.

Several years ago, Eurocham, the European Chamber of Commerce, said Vietnam needs not just to improve the quality of exports, but of our domestic goods as well. They are right; once businesses have prestige in their home market, they will have an easier time exporting.

That’s the road Japan followed. Everyone knows that the quality of Japanese products in their own market is higher than the goods they export. Japanese products that sell well at home will be easily accepted by importers.

Meanwhile, a lot of Vietnamese businesses suppose that because Vietnamese people’s incomes are limited, only low cost goods should be sold on the domestic market. However, people’s needs are growing. If they have a choice, even poor people will sometimes choose to buy more expensive, better quality things.

TT: We have some highly competitive enterprises – brewers, the light bulb maker Rang Dong, Vinamilk. What’s their secret?

Lan: They’s been methodical in developing their markets, investing in technologies and new ways of working, studying the preferences of consumers, management methods. . . . And they’ve done well. The May 10 and An Phuoc shirt companies also. For ten years, at the same time they’ve been exporting, they’ve been developing domestic distribution channels and securing a strategic position in the home market.

TT: In other countries, people are clearly, consciously choosing domestic goods. In Malaysia and India, for example, locally made cars are on their streets. . . .

Lan: I think that in this ‘Buy Vietnamese goods’ movement, government agencies and officials should be the model for the rest of us. India and Malaysia once restricted the imports of foreign made cars. When they opened the car markets, they already had well known car brand names. India has Tata, while Malaysia has Proton.

However, in Vietnam, even though locally-assembled automobiles enjoy tax incentives, their prices are still high. As soon as we joined WTO, the imported cars were better and immediately outsold the cars assembled here. You can’t blame consumers for that.

I like the South Korean way. They built up three famous car manufacturers, and nearly every South Korean, from high ranking officials to ordinary people, prefers to drive a domestically made car.

TT: The Politburo has instructed government agencies to get involved in the ‘Buy Vietnamese goods’ movement. What do you think we need to do so that domestic goods really rise to the top?

Lan: The Government decided right in November 2008 to develop the domestic market. The Ministry of Industry and Trade also announced a domestic market trade promotion programme a long time ago, but the programme will only be kicked off in October. It has taken them a full year to undertake the programme; that’s way too slow. If government agencies don’t get off their butts, businesses will suffer.

Domestic goods sell badly because their internal distribution network is bad. Foreign goods infiltrate by smuggling or selling cheaply, so Vietnamese companies need methodical, reasonable, sustained assistance from the State. The State once subsidized distribution of goods and salt to remote areas. I think that this method could be used in a wider scale.

It is time the Government set up standards for goods and police them. The cases of poisonous MSG, low protein dairy products or out-of-date cooking just shouldn’t happen. They reflect negatively on Vietnamese products.

While we work at changing behaviour about our products, we must also reexamine our attitude toward foreign producers. It is also necessary to tighten control over imports. Other countries require Vietnam to declare the origins of the fruits we export and they keep tight control over imports — why don’t we do the same?

If, when shoppers go to the market, they just see our products all jumbled up, when they buy those goods, they have to worry about quality or safety – that’s bad for consumers and bad for Vietnamese products.


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