Traders carry contraband from China over the border into Mong Cai town in Quanh Ninh Province
Markets and trade centers in northern Vietnamese border provinces have become hubs supplying cheap Chinese fakes to retailers around Vietnam.
In Mong Cai Town in the northern province of Quang Ninh, which borders China's Dongxing city, Vietweek discovered that Chinese nationals run most of the hundreds of kiosks at Vinh Co Market, dubbed "copycat" market and Chinese market.
Some display products with famous brand names like American Standard but at prices just a third of normal.
Asked about showers produced by Japan's Inax and Vietnamese Viglacera, Phuong, a Chinese woman who has been doing business in Mong Cai for five years and speaks Vietnamese, said she can put on "whatever" brand name customers want, even Kohler, for an order of 30 sets.
After receiving 50 percent payment, ordered items would be transported by road to customers' address, she said. The rest has to be paid after delivery.
Asked if there is no fear of the goods being seized, she said there is usually nothing to worry because the transporter paid bribes.
Her shop in the market is mainly for display for the wholesale business since retailing is not very profitable, she said.
Cell phones are sold in many of the shops, including smart phones with Apple, Nokia, and Samsung labels, for VND1-2 million (US$47-95), but sometimes for even less than VND1 million.
The young Vietnamese women working as salespeople at the shops said though the phones were fakes their quality was "guaranteed."
"Genuine iPhone and Nokia phones are also produced in China," they pointed out in support of their claim.
Phong, 30, a Chinese owner of a shop, said he gave a discount of 20 percent for an order of 20 items, and more discount if more than 50 were bought.
He also offers delivery and accepts payment after the stuff is delivered.
At the Mong Cai Central Market, which is famous for textile and garment, Vietweek saw nearly 80 percent of the shops were run by Chinese. Many were selling fake Adidas, Nike, Reebok, and other brands.
When Vietweek asked the Quang Ninh Market Management Agency why fake and smuggled Chinese products were rife in Mong Cai despite its presence, it deputed Le Anh Tuan, chief of the town's market management team No.4, to answer.
But Tuan persistently refused to talk to Vietweek, claiming he was busy with "family issues," before entrusting the task to his subordinate and deputy head of the team, Dinh Quang Man.
Man blamed it on a shortage of personnel.
He said there were 6,000 shops, including 800 run by Chinese, at the central market and other markets like Hong Van and TOGI.
Many Chinese came to Mong Cai in the morning with goods to sell at their rented shops and returned home in the evening, he said.
"Obviously in a border area, there are usually smuggled goods," he said.
Trouble along the line
The same thing happens in the border areas of Lang Son Province, contiguous to China's Guangxi. Large markets and malls like Viet-Trung (Vietnam-China) are full of Chinese knockoffs of brands like Panasonic, Sony, and Samsung.
Speaking to Vietweek, Hoang Khanh Hoa, deputy chief of the Lang Son customs office, said that on the other side of the border Chinese traders have their goods at stores very close to the border, and are ready to do business and deliver goods at whatever time, even midnight.
Though the provincial customs and border guards work closely to control cross-border trade and transportation, the situation remains bad, he admitted.
The Chinese traders have resorted to hiring Vietnamese living along the border to transport goods for them, and thousands are now engaged in the job, he said. Vietnamese in border areas are allowed to buy goods worth VND2 million per day across the border.
Nguyen Van Hung of Lang Son said he and others are hired to transport goods like garments and electronics.
They earn a few dollars a day but do not get paid the full amount since the traders keep part of it as a security deposit in case the transporters are caught, Hung added.
From these places along the borders, Chinese fakes pour into markets around Vietnam.
In Hanoi, for example, Ninh Hiep, a famous textile and garment market, has hundreds of shops with world famous brands over 80 percent of which are knockoffs made in China.
Vu Vinh Phu, former deputy chief of Hanoi's anti-smuggling and trade fraud agency, said in Dong Xuan market 90 percent of branded items are fakes from China.
"Fakes are rampant, but, alarmingly, both sellers and buyers, and even official agencies like the market management agency, economic police division, and tax department consider it normal," he said, warning that this could affect the entire economy.
Trinh Van Ngoc, chief of the Ministry of Industry and Trade's anti-fakes division, told Vietweek that Chinese knockoffs flood border provinces because local authorities are not "bold" enough to tackle them.
Without "strong" cooperation between agencies, it is difficult to tackle the problem, he said.
It is "not right" to blame the situation entirely on market management agencies because it is also the responsibility of other related agencies and local authorities, he said.
Market management agencies across the country have "only" 5,000 officers, he added.
A recent report on Thoi bao Kinh te Sai Gon Online newspaper said Chinese products are also in demand at Ho Chi Minh City wholesale markets, especially before Tet, though they do not have brand names or even clear origins.
Chinese goods, popular in the countryside, are favored due to their low prices and range of designs, importers said.
Even Vietnamese companies producing similar goods choose to import from China because imports cost them less.
The director of a firm importing sanitary ware told the online newspaper that his company earns a maximum profit of 10 percent on goods it produced, but 30 percent on average on imported Chinese products.
Vietnamese exports to China were worth US$12.2 billion last year against imports of $28.9 billion.
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