Vietnam traders forced to pay unfair shipping fees: ministry

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Foreign shipping lines have taken advantage of Vietnam's underdeveloped transportation industry to impose unreasonable surcharges on local customers, a transport ministry report said.

The Ministry of Transport discovered at least 10 irrational fees that foreign shipping lines had collected, including "congestion," "container imbalance" and "container repair" charges, news website VnExpress reported Monday.

These surcharges alone could bring thousands of US dollars to foreign companies for every shipment they deliver. However it would leave Vietnamese traders in a difficult situation and push up prices of imported goods, VnExpress cited the ministry's report as saying.

According to the ministry, local companies had to accept those fees because Vietnamese shipping lines failed to meet domestic demand.

The country now has a fleet of 36 container vessels, mainly owned by the Vietnam National Shipping Lines. The fleet can only meet 20 percent of transportation demand so foreign companies can easily control the market, especially during peak shipment seasons.

The Ministry of Transport proposed that the Ministry of Industry and Trade review all the shipping surcharges and related regulations to stop foreign companies from charging unreasonable fees.

At the same time the ministry called for measures to develop a strong shipping industry for Vietnam, starting with increasing the number of container ships and developing human resources.

Vietnam's government in mid March ordered the Ministry of Transport to lead a task force to inspect shipping lines in Ho Chi Minh City and Hai Phong, following complaints that some shipping lines were asking Vietnamese importers for excessive surcharges.

Shipping companies said such fees were necessary. For instance, the "container imbalance" charge was meant to offset the cost of transporting empty containers out of Vietnam in case exports from the country are unable to match the inflow of goods, they said.

The Finance Ministry, however, argued that as many shipping lines raised their fees at the same time, they could be violating antitrust regulations.

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