Vietnam businesses need to enter Myanmar now: insiders

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A shop in a traditional market in Myanmar. Photo courtesy of Saigon Tiep Thi

There is plenty of scope to sell Vietnamese products in Myanmar, especially low-cost ones, but manufacturers have done little promotion to tap the market, a group of business leaders said after a visit to the country.

Saigon Tiep Thi newspaper on Monday quoted Le Duc Duy, marketing director of Vietnam's leading dried fruit producing company, Vinamit, as saying Myanmar, which only opened its market last year, is a promising destination but there is competition from other countries to sell there.

Being in the early stages of attracting foreign investment, Myanmar offers foreign firms tax waiver for the first five years.

Eric, 26, a university graduate who recently returned home to Myanmar to manage his family's business after studying in the US, said he has been to Vietnam several times to explore opportunities for cooperation.

Myanmarese have special love for Vietnam, so would welcome Vietnamese companies opening sales outlets or even production facilities, he said.

But Japanese and Western investors are pouring into Myanmar, he warned.

His family owns thousands of hectares of land in Yangon, the country's largest city and former capital, and one piece of 105 square meters has been offered a price of US$20 million.

The general director of a company distributing fast moving consumer goods said the race for market share in Myanmar has intensified between South Korea, Thailand, Japan, and European countries.

Korean movies are provided to local televisions for free and have attracted local youths, while promotions for foreign dairy and cosmetics brands have been going on for months with gifts to visitors.

Many supermarkets display Vietnamese brands like Hai Ha, Kinh Do, and Bibica bakery products, Vina Acecook instant noodles, Saigon tissues, Vissan canned foods, Lix detergent, and Trung Nguyen coffee.

But they come straight from Vietnam, without changes made to labels or tastes to cater to Myanmarese preferences.

The head of the distribution company said Vietnamese companies need to make English labels and analyze Myanmarese culture and tastes to make their products accordingly.

Holding a G7 instant coffee pack, he said a survey found it suits local tastes, but the producer, Trung Nguyen, has not done much to promote the product. 

He called it a waste, saying that Swiss food and beverage company Nestlé has been very active in marketing its products.

Myanmar's traditional markets are full of cheap products from China, Malaysia, India, and Thailand, meaning there is plenty of opportunity for Vietnam's low-cost products, according to the six Vietnamese entrepreneurs.

The average wage in Yangon is US$70-80 a month, only around half the Vietnamese average, and even less in other parts of the country.

Duy of Vinamit said vendors in Myanmar's traditional markets use a strange and outdated scale. "It immediately caused me to think of Nhon Hoa scales."

A scale for weighing up five kilograms by Vietnam's leading scale maker costs VND170,000, while a larger one for up to 120 kg costs VND970,000.

The Vietnamese delegation was asked to bring more, cheaper products if possible.

Pham Thanh Dung, Vietnam's ambassador to Myanmar, said the embassy in Yangon has been busy receiving and assisting Vietnamese businesses coming to explore the market.

But not many have returned or stayed, he said.

Tran Phuoc Anh, his subordinate, said local production only meets 15 percent of the demand of 60 million consumers, and the country largely depends on cheap imports given the low income.

He said Vietnam should organize high-quality products exhibitions in Myanmar to compete with the many held by Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and China.

Vietnamese companies need to tie up with local distribution companies to make their entry easier, and their food and cosmetics products need to be approved by the US's Food and Drug Administration, he added.

Duy said Vietnamese businesses need to make specific plans if they want a slice of the market.

They have to have people tracking the market every day, and small investments would be a waste of money.

"We need to give everything or nothing at all."

There are 23 Vietnamese companies with a presence in Myanmar.

The government has approved five projects by Vietnamese companies, including a property development worth $440 million by private firm HAGL.

Another 18, worth an estimated $600 million, are being planned or awaiting approval.

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