Deputy agriculture minister Ho Xuan Hung has asked related agencies to strictly punish a local company which was recently found illegally selling 23,000 tons of imported salt.
Hung was speaking at a meeting reviewing salt production and trade in Hanoi on Friday, a couple of days after local media exposed the actions of the Ho Chi Minh City-based South Basic Chemicals Company.
According to the Anti-smuggling and Investigation Department of the Vietnam Customs, the company sold the salt which was imported for chemicals production at preferential tax rates. The amount was estimated at nearly VND20 billion (US$954,000) with the hidden taxes of nearly VND7 billion ($334,000).
Nguyen Van On, department representative, said the salt was part of over 200,000 tons that were licensed for import by the Ministry of Industry and Trade.
In an interview with Thanh Nien, Le Van Hung, director general of the company, admitted to the violation, saying that they have sold the salt over the past five years "without being aware of its critical consequences."
Since the exposure, local media has criticized the company's wrongdoing has worsened the fact that when local reserves are high and farmers have suffered plummeting prices over the years, companies are still licensed to import salt.
However, Nguyen Nam Hai, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, said the company's wrongdoing was not on a large scale, considering that 90 percent of the imported salt has been used in accordance with its license.
"While the company has wrongly used 23,000 tons of salt, it used more than 60,000 tons of locally-produced salt for food processing," Hai said.
Asked if the ministry will continue licensing the company to import salt, Hai said they need to consider the matter. He said the violation does not mean that authorities would impose a ban on importing salt.
Meanwhile, Luu Hoang Ngoc, deputy head of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's Chemicals Department, said companies have to be responsible for their operations.
"We [the Ministry of Industry and Trade] have asked them to commit that imported salt won't be used for other than chemicals production and health purposes, and that it is also not used for commercial exchanges. If they have violated this committment, they will have to face legal consequences," Ngoc said when asked if his ministry was being lax about supervising post-import activities.
Ngoc also said that the ministry will draft a monitoring framework to ensure that imported salt is used for the right purposes.
However, Hung stressed that while the violator has to be punished strictly, the management responsibilities of government agencies need to be evaluated strictly as well.
Hung also announced at the meeting that the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development has approved a project to buy between 30-40 percent of salt produced by local farmers annually.
The project will benefit over 70,000 farmers who are suffering from plummeting prices despite good harvests, he said.
As of October, Vietnam's salt output was nearly 763,000 tons, and expected to raise to 800,000 tons by the end of this year, said An Van Khanh, a senior agriculture ministry official.
While the output is 67 percent of last year's figures for the period, it still meets current demand, he said.