Vietnam’s Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh has insisted that the country still needs more steel projects to maintain sustainable development, despite widespread concern over environmental issues new facilities may cause.
Speaking at a Q&A session with lawmakers in Hanoi on Tuesday, Anh said he is aware of the criticism that the ministry is “selling the environment for more steel projects,” but quickly refuted the allegation.
“There is no such thing as getting something at the expense of the environment,” the minister said. “This is about our view of sustainably developing the economy.”
Anh was referring directly to the Ca Na steel project, a development proposed for the south-central province of Ninh Thuan.
The minister stood up to defend his ministry’s support for the project, proposed by corrugated sheet-iron producer Hoa Sen Group, after one of the lawmakers, Pham Thi Minh Hien, representing Phu Yen Province, questioned if there is a ‘group interest’ in the project.
“Minister, please give voters countrywide an honest and straightforward answer for this: is there any group interest involved after the ministry has agreed to add the Ca Na project to the country’s master plan for steel industry development?” Hien questioned.
In response, minister Anh said that the ministry “never develops industrial projects at the cost of the environment” and “never exchanges the environment for new steel projects”.
“And why we are talking about group interest here?” the minister added. “We are aiming to sustainably and harmonically develop all economic sectors and ensure domestic supplies of raw materials to our industries.”
The minister then reiterated that Vietnam really needs more steel projects because “by 2020 the country will have to earmark $15 billion a year on imported steel.”
“Isn’t it a paradox if we are forced to waste money on steel imports when Vietnam has some 1.5 billion metric tons of iron ore reserves, but not enough steel plants to process it?” he asked.
In line with procedures
Among the concerns raised over the Ca Na steel plant, besides pollution, is that it flies in the face of all regional and provincial planning.
As previously reported, the Ca Na project is not included in any prior planning by the Vietnamese steel industry, industrial and commercial planning for the north-central and central coastal regions, nor planning for the socio-economic development of Ninh Thuan by 2020.
In yesterday’s session, this prompted Hien, the Phu Yen lawmaker, to challenge the trade minister with another question; “Which of the two options is correct in Vietnam: that investment be in line with planning, or that planning be adjusted to validate any new investment?”
Anh replied that every piece of paperwork related to the Ca Na project had been done “in line with procedure.”
“The project was first approved back in 2009 but was later removed from the steel industry development plan as the then-developer was incapable of getting work started,” he explained.
“In late 2015 the Hoa Sen Group and Ninh Thuan administration proposed a restart of the project with a guarantee of environmental protection.”