Entrepreneurs are nation's 'development cadre'

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The business community has "greatly contributed" to Vietnam's strong response to the global financial crisis and economic slowdown, said Vu Tien Loc, Chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI).

In the face of many difficulties, they have worked hard to cut production costs and provide better customer care to hold on to their market shares, he said.

Loc credited the emergence of entrepreneurs as a major national force in recent years to the government's doi moi (reform) economic policy.

Vietnam now has 400,000 firms, 3.7 million business households and 14,500 cooperatives. If each firm has one businessperson, the country has more than 4 million businesspeople, an importance force for economic development and job generation, contributing to dealing with social issues such as poverty reduction, said Loc.

"A country's position in the world is defined by its economic potential. Businesspeople are the cadre in developing the potential."

In trouble

The economic crisis has pushed the Vietnamese business community into a tough spot, and long-term recovery will depend on the lessons learnt, former government economist Pham Chi Lan said.

Speaking to Thanh Nien Weekly on the occasion of the Entrepreneurs' Day that the nation observes on October 13th, he said, "Vietnamese businesspeople have experienced what I call a real-life heavy storm, not just a nightmare."

The global economic crisis swept everything away from local businesspeople who had already struggled with another storm a year earlier, he said. Businesses faced high production costs as high inflation surged in Vietnam throughout 2008, partly because of high interest rates on loans.

"It is obvious that Vietnamese businesspeople were hurt more than their counterparts in other markets," Lan said.

"I believe that only 20 percent of Vietnamese businesses were able to ride out the recession with some success while the rest were at risk of mergers, bankruptcy or serious restructuring in order to survive and develop in the coming years."

However, the two years of economic turbulence have provided many lessons that could be valuable to Vietnamese entrepreneurs if they are open to leaning them, he added.

Structural management was the first lesson. Twenty percent of businesses are now stronger than they were when the turbulence hit because they adapted quickly to the changes, he said.

Lan felt the second lesson was to recognize the value of human resources. With well-trained human resources and correct personnel placement, Vietnamese firms could sharpen their competitive edge.

The third lesson would be the value of the domestic market and of acting together to become a more competitive force against larger players, Lan agreed.

Government's role

Loc and Lan were agreed that the Vietnamese government has showed its support to local businesses before and during the crisis, both Loc and Lan said.

It deployed eight measures in 2008 to curb inflation and ease credit difficulties. As a result, high inflation was curbed and businesses enjoyed lower interest rates. The government introduced five other measures to help local businesses fight the recession this year through two stimulus packages that offered interest rate subsidies and tax exemptions and reductions.

The government boosted businesses' confidence and backed them during the difficulties, but "I think Vietnamese businesspeople expected more effort and support from the government," Lan said.

The crisis has bottomed out but signs of a strong recovery are yet to appear, so more difficulties lurk around the corner, he said. Businesses expect a second stimulus package from the government and new post-recession national economic policies, he added.

Meanwhile, Loc said the shifting of attention to the domestic market was the "correct measure" which has "helped us retain economic growth, and ensure social welfare."

However, some businesspeople have showed shortcomings in terms of the management and their ability to cooperate, Loc said. Some of them have not yet actively improved their knowledge, mapped out long-term production and business strategies, and attached importance to environmental protection.

"Vietnamese businesspeople are lagging behind regional peers in terms of professionalism and managerial capacity. Overcoming this is a big challenge."

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