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Sidewalk beer sales in Vietnam: To ban or not to ban?

Wednesday, September 10, 2014, 09:32 GMT+7
Sidewalk beer sales in Vietnam: To ban or not to ban?
People cheerfully drink beer on the sidewalk at night in Ho Chi Minh City.

When news of a possible ban of beer sales on sidewalks in Vietnam spread, some wondered why only beer is subject to the potential ban.

The sidewalk beer ban is not actually a reality yet, but it is no joke either. The Ministry of Industry and Trade admitted that it is considering a draft regulation for the ban.

Besides banning beer on the sidewalk, the draft also prohibits the sale of beer in hospitals, schools, and offices. Selling beer to people under 18 years old and to breastfeeding women would also be forbidden.

The issue has stirred controversy among state officials, manufacturers, and the public, some of whom claim it is feasible, while others say it is inapplicable.

For example, how can a beer vendor check if a customer is not breastfeeding her baby?

What is actually barred on sidewalks?

Sidewalks are supposed to only be for pedestrians. This is a universal rule, and of course correct in Vietnam too.

The Southeast Asian country already has regulations in place disallowing the appropriation of sidewalks and other public places.

But in reality, numerous markets have been set up, not only on the sidewalk, but also on roads, for years.

However, authorities have failed to stop this practice.

Yet, they are now planning to make things even more complicated by banning beer on the sidewalk.

What does this mean? Do authorities want to select beer as a ‘pilot’ item to ban first, before eventually forbidding all other goods to restore order on the sidewalk? Do authorities want to limit the consumption of beer in Vietnam? Or do they want to regularly check restaurants and owners of sidewalk beer shops?

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Tourists drink beer at a sidewalk beer shop on Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City's District 1. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Opinions on the potential ban

Le Hong Son, head of the central department which checks the legality of laws and regulations under the Ministry of Justice, said the draft regulation, if approved, would be baseless.

“It is just a draft, so it is too early to come to a conclusion. However, I just want to make some notes.

“Banning beer in hospitals and schools is of moral standard. However, can you absolutely ban it at any time?” he asked.

He argued that it is lawful if a school is used to host an event (such as a party) when the school is on a holiday during summer.

And the banning of beer sales to pregnant or breastfeeding women is definitely inapplicable, Son believes.

A beer vendor has no power to check that, he stressed, so the ban is baseless.

Hirofumi Kishi, general director of the Sapporo beer company in Vietnam, agreed that the sidewalk is for pedestrians, and so it is correct to ban beer sales there.

But the sales of all other goods on the sidewalk must be banned too in that case, he noted.

Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beverages Association, added that it is ridiculous to forbid beer, but not other items, on the sidewalk.

If all goods are prohibited from being sold on the sidewalk, the industry and trade ministry should not be bothering itself to compile a different document for a beer ban.

In short, the draft regulation of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, if ratified, will be correct in theory, but inapplicable in practice.

An official at the Ministry of Industry and Trade, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he believes the ban will be feasible, but it depends on each province.

He added that the ban is based on Decision 224, approved by the Prime Minister, regarding the national policy on the prevention of beer and alcoholic beverages.

Ho Thi Ha, a resident on Quang Trung Street in Go Vap District in Ho Chi Minh City, told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper that she supports the prohibition of beer sales on the sidewalk.

She pointed toward beer shops near her house, saying that they place tables on the sidewalk and leave no space for pedestrians.

“It is unacceptable,” she said.

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