Editor’s note: Pham Thi Bien Thuy shares her expectation of building a strong brand for Vietnamese rice on the global market in her submission to the “Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” (“My Expectations for Vietnam in 20 Years”) writing contest.
Even though I was born and grew up in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta, I was fortunate enough to be able to study in the UK.
I still remember very clearly that, when taking me to the airport, my father told me: “Dad and mom will try to work hard for you to pursue your education, and we only hope you can become a talented and kind person who will return to contribute to the country, where most people are still poor.”
I am now a British resident with a stable job outside my home country. But I will never forget the hope of my parents, which is also mine.
I set up a company that imports Vietnamese goods to the UK. My first imported product was Hoa Sua organic rice, and I am seeking markets for dried dragon fruit.
The purpose of my company is clear: to carefully select high-quality, healthy Vietnamese products to ship to the UK under one brand. The company will invest its profits into the development of clean technology and science, help generate jobs for locals and contribute to social development.
After days and months of studying the market, by attending food fairs and exhibitions and giving product samples to UK consumers, I realized that the potential for Vietnamese products in the UK is very big, since the selected products are delicious, new to consumers and healthy. Vietnamese cuisine is becoming more and more popular, as the number of British and European holidaymakers visiting Vietnam is increasing day by day.
Moreover, British consumers are very concerned about the origin, history and culture of the products. I was surprised when many British people said they are happy to know that Vietnam can produce organic rice without using fertilizer and pesticide and harming the environment.
In the short term, I hope to receive support from the government to build a brand for high-quality Vietnamese rice in the UK in the next five years. From this point, there will be a Vietnamese brand established in Europe in the next ten years.
So what is my expectation for Vietnam in the 20 years to come?
Vietnam will have a strong and stable force of businesses who will top Asia in food exporting.
For the businesses’ part, many Vietnamese firms now only care about ‘quantity’ while ignoring ‘quality’.
If cheap rice that costs US$395 a ton apparently can’t find buyers, how is Myanmar able to ship hundreds of tons of rice to Europe?
It is because the Europe is in need of good and clean rice, despite the high price of nearly $1,000 a ton.
Business owners should try every possible method to effectively increase the value-added aspect of their products, strictly control the production phases to increase production value, increase income for farmers, and gradually affirm the position of Vietnamese goods in the global market.
As for business associations and societies of businesspeople, they are said to be weak in cooperation and sharing economic and technical experiences. Many are afraid of losing their technology when they share with others.
But few realize that during these tough economic times, where competition is fierce, one will reach bankruptcy sooner or later if their company is not strong enough, and if the technology one thinks only they know is in fact available in all developed countries.
The saying which goes, “a tree cannot make a forest,” is totally true, particularly for businesspeople. No one can achieve success alone, and what matters is how they choose a partner to grow together.
Therefore, associations should frequently gather recommendations by firms in terms of laws, mechanisms and policies, and encourage cooperation between their members to transfer technology, share production experience, and promote trade and advanced business culture.
As for universities, those such as Nong Lam University and the University of Technology, with their talented lecturers and students, can do their part by conducting research, updating and enhancing production technology, finding new breeds, or packaging and marketing.
A UK survey finds that 56 percent of local businesses fail because of weak managers. It is thus very important to train a force of active entrepreneurs with good ethics, and good professional and management skills, especially at the start-up stage.
The Foreign Trade University can cooperate with business associations to set up a complete entrepreneur training curriculum. In order to integrate with the global economy, entrepreneurs must be global citizens, represent their nations and set examples for younger generations. Those with unstable, exploitative and dishonest businesses must be eliminated.
As for the government, businesses are not unfamiliar with a lack of capital. The government has enacted many measures to support small- and medium-sized enterprises (SME), for example a VND17 trillion credit package in 2009, but it is still unclear how this aid has affected businesses and SMEs.
To me, the credit lending can be simplified and made more transparent. For instance, the government can set up three units in charge of providing loans. One is solely in charge of start-up firms, the second for those businesses who need more capital to expand production, and the last to help SMEs who need money for exports.
The government should also provide capital support for businesses to attend international fairs and exhibitions to promote their products, as well as to learn business experience from other countries.
After five years, the government can review and evaluate how many loan recipients succeed, and how many jobs these firms generate, as well as the taxes they contribute to the state budget.
In 2012, I was studying the taxes to export rice to the UK when I discovered that Thai, Indian and Pakistani rice are exempt from duties when shipped to the UK, but Vietnamese rice is not.
I then wrote a letter to Prime Minister David Cameron and the Minister of State for Trade and Investment, calling for an explanation as to why Vietnamese rice is subject to a high duty, and called for help from the government. Even though the letter was warmly replied, my requests were not met.
I really hope the Vietnamese government and its diplomats, those who hold the decisive right to the nation’s economy and development, will always try to reach bilateral treaties to promote exports of our staples through free trade agreements.
“Vietnam has not only a hardworking, ingenious workforce, or an active and creative entrepreneur force, but also strong and rich potential in natural resources” – this is the common evaluation of most leading experts both in and outside Vietnam.
I believe when the potential for economic growth in each citizen is provoked, and supported by the government, my expectation will be realized.
“Ky Vong Viet Nam 20 Nam Toi” is a competition organized by the World Bank in Vietnam and Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that encourages local youths to write down their wildest, yet feasible, dreams about how Vietnam will change in 20 years’ time.