PM nod needed for major reforestation projects

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The prime minister will be responsible for approving forest planting projects undertaken by foreign investors and joint-ventures, according to proposed amendments to a decree on implementation of the Investment Law.

The amendments also propose that the prime minister approves forest planting projects of local investors in areas that are important to national defense and security. Currently, city and provincial authorities are responsible for giving the approval.

According the draft decree released last week by the Ministry of Planning and Investment, prime ministerial approval will be needed to approve projects of VND5 trillion (US$238 million) and above.

Other projects that will require the prime minister's nod include projects involving from 20 hectares and up at national parks, natural reserves and protective forest, from 100 hectares and up of coastal protective forests, from 500 hectares on at other types of forests and more than 50 hectares of rice fields.

In 2010, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung had asked provinces not to rent out forest land to foreign investors after critics said the practice was undermining national security and the environment.

His statement came after Lieutenant General Dong Sy Nguyen, one of Vietnam's longest-serving and most respected military men, seriously criticized local governments leasing land in northern and central border areas to foreign invested projects.

A total of 10 provinces including Quang Ninh, Lang Son and Cao Bang in the north, Nghe An, Ha Tinh, Quang Nam, Khanh Hoa and Binh Dinh in the central region, Kon Tum in the Central Highlands and Binh Duong in the south, have permitted foreign firms to rent 305,353 hectares of forest land in total, according to figures from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development.

Many of the plots had been leased for 50-year terms, and 264,000 hectares, much of which are in border provinces, have been leased to companies from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong.

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