Vietnam is still scratching the surface of what it can become: economists

Thanh Nien News

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A worker works at a private steel workshop which produces steel rods for construction from scrap iron in Dong Anh District on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photo: AFP A worker works at a private steel workshop which produces steel rods for construction from scrap iron in Dong Anh District on the outskirts of Hanoi. Photo: AFP


Vietnam is believed to have achieved many great successes a lot over the last three decades of economic renovation, but many economists say the years ahead will continue to be challenging. 
At a forum in Hanoi last week to mark the 30th year of the reform policy, known as Doi Moi, some economists said that the long-feared risk of falling behind most of the world has materialized, in large part due to what they called "dated viewpoints."
While there are many things to be proud of, the gap between Vietnam and developed countries has been expanding over the years, news website Saigon Times Online quoted Tran Dinh Thien, chief of Vietnam Institute of Economics, as saying at the event.
For instance, when the Doi Moi era began in 1986, Vietnam's gross domestic product was equivalent to 4.1 percent of China's.
But in 2013, that ratio fell to 1.9 percent, Thien said, adding that it could take Vietnam 10 years to achieve the neighboring country's 2011 GDP.
Even when compared to closer economies such as Thailand, Vietnam also has a lot of catching up to do, he said. 
"We have indeed fallen behind the world, and are slipping further and further behind," said Nguyen Quang Thai, general secretary of the Vietnam Economic Association, a Hanoi-based group that advises policymakers. 
In 1990, each Vietnamese earned US$4,000 less than the world's average, and currently, when Vietnam's GDP per capita is around $2,000, the gap has doubled to $8,000, Thai said.
Worse, the economist said, Vietnam's performance is mediocre on many international rankings on different sectors, from education to healthcare.
Thai was quoted as blaming Vietnam's current situation on "dated viewpoints" which resulted in policy mistakes.
Growth hindrances
Luu Bich Ho, former chief of the Development Strategy Institute under the Ministry of Planning and Investment, said some the Doi Moi's core concepts such as "socialist-oriented market economy" and "the state sector playing the leading role" have held back Vietnam's development.
Vu Tuan Anh, a senior economist at Vietnam Institute of Economics, said the country's policy on economic development currently relies on natural resources, cheap labor costs, and foreign investment.
But natural resources will be depleted sooner or later, and cheap labor is no longer an advantage but a problem because cheapness often means poor quality, Anh was quoted as saying in Vietnam News Agency's business website BNews.
Anh and many other economists at the meeting pointed out that obsolete technology is another reason for Vietnam's transition economy to be struggling.
Vietnam has failed to pay sufficient attention to the development of technology and science, and relied on those brought by foreign investors, they said.
Local businesses spend an average of 0.2-0.3 percent of their revenues innovating their technology, compared to the rates of 5 percent in India and 10 percent in South Korea, according to Anh.
Most of the businesses are satisfied with their technology, even though it is two or even three generations older than the world's, he said.
"Without breakthroughs over the next 20 years, Vietnam will stand still," Thien said.

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