Customs officials in Vietnam are diligent and demanding. In fact, Vietnamese traders now complain that many of them are actually too diligent and demanding.
Many quality tests required by customs officials cost too much time and money while some requirements are almost impossible to meet, local media quoted Vietnamese traders as saying at a conference last Friday.
Dang Van Hieu from a Ho Chi Minh City-based furniture company said quality checks on imported wood panels take 10 to 15 days.
Hieu said that while regulations instruct a business to leave a piece of wood as sample at the customs unit for testing, the airport customs officers usually required his company to leave the entire shipment.
“We import around ten containers each time and because we have to leave all of them with the customs office, we have to pay a high storage fee,” he said, as quoted by Phap Luat Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh.
But another time when the company imported a set of furniture including an expensive burlap sofa and the customs office demanded to cut a piece of the burlap for testing, he said.
That was just one of the “outrageous” rules, he said.
Traders said companies sometimes had to abandon their shipments as the cost of quality checks was too high.
A source from a Taiwanese footwear maker in the southern province of Long An said it spends VND40-50 million (US$1,800-2,260) each month just to have its fabric samples tested for formaldehyde content.
“It’s the same test again and again. If we have the same type of fabric in 10 colors, and we have to pay for 10 different tests."
“Why can't they just conduct one test to save us from the misery?”
These quality tests cost between VND2.1-2.6 million ($95-118), irrespective of the size of the sample, local media reported.
Nguyen Thanh Nghia, president of a steel pile and roofing export company in Binh Duong Province in the south, said the difficult test demands have prompted businesses to bribe.
Nghia said no one wants to throw away their entire shipment because it fails customs tests.
"If this time you don’t pass the tests, next time you will," Nghia said, as cited by Phap Luat Thanh pho Ho Chi Minh.
"So everyone bribes. That’s how regulations create corruption.”
Dinh Cong Khuong, board chairman of another iron product company in Ho Chi Minh City, said each ton of imported iron cost around one dollar of testing fees and "unofficial fees," which translated to a total of VND120 billion ($5.43 million) for all steel importers in the country last year.
A survey funded by the US found that despite the high number of tests, very few products have failed at the end.
The failure rates in Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City and the neighboring Binh Duong Province were less than 1 percent, it found.
“That means the current testing system has gone beyond what is necessary,” said a representative of UASAID Governance for Inclusive Growth, which conducted the survey.