Highland region gets a shot in the arm

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More than 120 commercial and other projects were registered to the Central Highlands on Saturday at an investment forum where officials called for more efforts to help the underdeveloped region realize its potential.

Sixty of the projects are for processing farm produce and timber, 20 are for manufacturing, and 24 are tourism-related.

The "Investment Promotion Forum into the Central Highlands", an event that Deputy Prime Minster Truong Vinh Trong likened to "rain in the dry season" for the region, brought 500 bankers, business people and government officials to Buon Ma Thuot, the capital of Dak Lak Province.

They said the region, home to about six percent of Vietnam's 86 million people, had the potential to grow into a strong economy but was hindered by lack of capital.

Mai Van Nam, vice chairman of the Central Highlands Steering Committee, told the forum that the region of five provinces was rich in natural resources, was 56 percent covered in forest, and was ideal for tourism projects.

However, he said, development was slow as most investment in the region so far had come from the central government.

Foreign-invested projects in the region are a mere 1.4 percent of the nationwide total, according to the Ministry of Planning and Investment.

Nam said the Central Highlands would never grow fast if it could not attract capital from other sources.

Deputy Minister of Planning and Investment Nguyen Bich Dat said the region needed a large infusion of capital to achieve 12-13 percent annual growth and reduce the number of poor households by 3-4 percent every year.

Next year, for example, the region would need investment of some VND35 trillion, Dat said.

Since the government could only provide 40 percent of this sum, the rest would have to come from the domestic private sector and foreign investors, he said.

He said the Central Highlands would have to improve its business environment and focus on what it could do best to tap its great potential.

The economic situation in the Central Highlands has its shortcomings, Deputy Prime Minister Trong told the forum. "(But) the room for growth is still huge."

Trong asked the relevant agencies to collect opinions and proposals from investors and submit them to the government so that it could formulate new policies to facilitate the region's development.

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