VIETNAM – AGRICULTURE 4.0 – ECONOMIC TIMES INTERVIEWING DR. OLIVER MASSMANN

1. How would you comment on Vietnam’s advantages and disadvantages in attracting FDI into the agriculture sector?

Advantages:

In the general growth of the whole economy in the first 6 months in 2021, the agriculture, forestry and fishery sector increased by 3.82% over the same period last year (contributing 12.15% to the overall national growth).

Recently, the Government has issued many policies to attract businesses to invest in the agriculture sector. For example, enterprises with special agricultural projects that rent or sub-lease land and water surface from households and individuals to implement investment projects are entitled to the Government’s investment incentives. The country will provide funding equivalent to 20% of the land rent and water surface rent for the first 5 years since the project is completed and put into operation. Or, the government supports agricultural product processing establishments, livestock and poultry slaughter establishments with 60% of the investment capital and not more than 15 billion VND/project to build infrastructure for waste treatment, transportation, electricity, etc.

Disadvantages:

Human resources are not maximized: Abundant labor force is an advantage, but vocational training programs and projects are not really appropriate and effective, so the quality of labor is still low. In 2020, untrained agricultural, forestry and fishery workers was around 12 million people, accounting for 89.97% of the total number of agricultural, forestry and fishery workers in working age.

Small production is still the majority, quality of products is not high: Development and production is still scattered and small. Most of the production units are of small scale with low investment capital, so the production and business efficiency is not high.

Environmental pollution is still a big issue: The production of agriculture sector has revealed more and more clearly the weaknesses in protecting the ecological environment in recent years. The collection and treatment of waste are still inadequate. The disposition of bottles and packaging of pesticides right in fields, lakes, ponds, canals, rivers and streams is quite common. In 2020, there are 4,096 communes nationwide that do not have a collection point for bottles and pesticide packaging, accounting for 49.37% of the total number of communes in rural areas.

Non-advanced agricultural technology: most (if not all) of agricultural production remain outdoor, making it easily directly affected by risks from natural disasters, epidemics (in cultivation and animal husbandry, aquaculture) at any time, affecting production and profits of enterprises.

2. Under Decision No.255/QD-TTg approving the Plan on restructuring the agricultural sector in the 2021-2025 period, the country would focus on developing sustainable agriculture as well as enhancing quality, added value, and competitiveness of local agricultural product. From this, how do you forecast some prospects for appealing FDI in the agricultural sector in the years to come?

According to Decision 255, the following fields will be of focus in the next 4 years:

a) Cultivation field
Vietnam aims to increase the proportion of fruit trees to 21%, vegetables to 17% to meet the consumption demand of the market, contributing to ensuring national food security.

b) Livestock field
Adjust the structure of livestock herds, aiming to reduce the proportion of pigs, increase the proportion of poultry and herds of cattle.

c) Fishery field
Promote offshore agriculture, focusing on objects of high economic value; development of organic aquaculture.

d) Salt industry
To renovate, upgrade and modernize infrastructure, apply technical advances to increase production of industrial salt and clean salt; to form a key industrial-scale salt production area in the South Central provinces; sharply reduce the area of manual salt production, converting inefficient salt production areas to other areas with higher economic efficiency.

3. It can be said that one of the bottlenecks of investment into the agricultural sector is the local mindset. What are the solutions to overcome the barriers and attract more foreign investors into Vietnam’s agricultural sector?

– Creating investment incentives for FDI projects in the agricultural sector, for example: preferential loans for projects investing in developing raw materials for the sector, projects that apply biotechnology; support scientific research activities, tax incentives, land levy.
– Applying guarantee mechanisms for FDI businesses, work with banks to create favorable access of foreign companies to private capital.
– Developing support mechanism for projects suffering from natural disasters or at risk of market price fluctuations.
– Developing one-stop-shop regulations for FDI investors, simplify investment procedures especially with regard to land clearance.
– Developing the vocational training system in rural areas. Vietnam has a lot of protocols with other countries in the EU aiming at the exchange of agricultural knowledge in various forms that should be maximized.
– Promoting the role of local organizations in supporting FDI investors to approach local farmers.

4. As FDI into the hi-tech and sustainable agriculture is considered as a current trend and solution. What have been the main concerns of foreign agribusiness regarding sustainable development?

The biggest difficulty when investing in agriculture for FDI enterprises is securing agricultural land. Even when there is a land fund for agriculture, the procedures are also relatively time consuming and difficult. In addition, the transportation of agricultural products between production place and consumption place is still difficult due to the lack of synchronous infrastructure.

Currently, foreign investors are not allowed to receive the transfer of agricultural land use rights, are not allowed to rent agricultural land directly from households, nor are they allowed to use this leased land as collateral for loans, leading to limited access to land resources and it is impossible for foreign investors to form a large enough land area to implement big projects. Nevertheless, in some localities, if there are land funds, priority is given to the planning of industrial parks because they will generate higher and faster revenue.

5. Which strategies should the Government adopt in the 2021-2025 period in order for the country to realize those targets?

Besides those mentioned in Answer 2 above, some other recommended strategies include:

_ Guide e-commerce trading floors to facilitate sellers and traders of agricultural products to join the floor; and
_ Promote the application of high technology in transporting agricultural products. Currently, the process of transporting and exporting agricultural products often damages about 40% of products, causing great cost to the economy.

Please do not hesitate to contact the author Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC, Member to the Supervisory Board of PetroVietnam Insurance JSC and the only foreign lawyer presenting in Vietnamese language to members of the NATIONAL ASSEMBLY OF VIETNAM.

VIETNAM AGRICULTURE FARMING 4.0 – Issues and Solutions – Impact of the Major Trade Agreements CPTPP, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

A. Introduction

The biggest challenge in the agriculture and farming sector is to actually take the step to invest in new digital technologies. From a short perspective, this is associated with high costs for farmers. In the long term, however, it can increase yields and protect the environment significantly. So far, there have been three key phases in the development of agriculture and farming, namely mechanization, the introduction of mineral fertilizers and industrialization. The fourth phase is the currently evolving digitization. The positive effects of intelligent and digital agriculture can be significant.

When technological agriculture started (with utilization of satellite navigation and remote sensing to farm each square meter as efficiently and sustainably as possible), it seemed to be very unlikely for the ordinary farmer to gain benefits from it since the costs were too high. However, nowadays, it is possible for many farmers to collect a tremendous amount of data and use inexpensive small processors to make use of the information and to control equipment or monitor animals with it. Through digital smartness and connectivity, the agricultural machines can collect weather data, order spare parts or access detailed information about the field from a central, cloud based farm management software.

However, the technology development in the farming sector in Vietnam is still in its infancy. The digitalization has not reached Vietnams farming sector yet. The farmers are still using basic computers, standard internet information and basic information and communications technology in general. Many did not even reach the industrialization yet, using the telephone, light bulb, and the internal combustion engine. Still, a growing number of farmers is starting to adopt digital technology and data-driven innovations.

B. Precision Agriculture

Precision Agriculture (PA) is a key component of the agricultural digitization and means to apply the exact and correct amount of inputs like water, fertilizer, pesticides etc. at the correct time to the crop for increasing its productivity and maximizing its yields. It provides farmers with information to build up a record of their farm, helps to make decisions, promotes traceability and provides better marketing of farm products. Finally, it enhances the quality of the product itself.

Efficient farming must increase and the government should support investors of this sector. For instance, from 1900 to 1930 worldwide, each farmer produced enough food to feed about 26 people. In the 1990s, the so-called Green Revolution lead to new methods of genetic modification, therefore each farmer was able to feed about 155 people. The global population is increasing and by 2050 it is expected that the worldwide population will reach to almost 10 billion, thus food production must effectively double from the current magnitude. With the introduction of new technological improvements of precision farming, each farmer could be able to feed 265 people on the same acreage.

The first steps of PA came in the forms of satellite and aerial imagery, weather prediction, variable rate fertilizer application, and crop health indicators. The second wave collects the machine data for even more precise planting, topographical mapping and soil data. Another example of developed technology is the Geo-Localization. With this, field data can be captured. An analysis of soils, residual nitrogen, soil resistance and past harvests takes place. Further, by now, self-steering tractors do most of the work. The farmer only needs to intervene in emergencies. Through GPS connection, they spread fertilizer or plough land. Another notable innovation is a solar powered machine that identifies weeds and precisely kills them with a dose of herbicide or lasers.

C. Precision Livestock Farming

Precision Livestock Farming (PLF) aims to improve the efficiency of production. It helps the farmer and ensures the well-being of the animal through applying advanced information and communication technologies, targeted resource use and precise control of the production process. Through this technology, the contribution of each animal is streamlined. By this individual approach, the farmer can deliver better results in livestock farming. Those results can be quantitative, qualitative and sustainable.

PLF can significantly improve livestock farming. It can ensure animal welfare because the whole procedure is being documented on farms. Greenhouse gas (GHG) emission can be reduced and environmental performance of farms can improve. Further, PLF can facilitate product segmentation and reduce illegal trading of livestock products.

D. Benefits and obstacles

Utilizing new technology can deliver more yields and greater environmental protection. For instance, farms in Germany using advanced digital technology have reported higher yields per hectare while reducing nitrogen levels considerably, as well as cutting herbicide and diesel use by 10% – 20%. Farmers thus obtain a return on their investment by saving on water, pesticides and fertilizer costs. The second large-scale benefit is to reduce the environmental harm. Applying the right amount of chemicals in the right place and at the right time benefits crops, soils and groundwater, and thus the entire crop cycle.

However, there are rarely any examples of successful commercialization of PLF technologies. There is currently an abundance of information available to livestock managers, but it is not generally structured in a way that can be applied readily.

The farmers and investors hesitation might be due the involving risks. The noted risks include financial failure because of unforeseen environment or market circumstances, damage to the farm infrastructure such as soils and pasture, compromises to animal health and welfare, and increased stress on farmers from managing the allegedly complicated systems. Thus, it is important to develop a management system that ensures only the most essential procedures are carried out, they are all carried out correctly and consistently, and in a way that controls risk.

E. Solutions

For the implementation of digital farming in Vietnam, a good collaboration between the public sector, industry players and the farming community is significantly important. In specific, decision-makers and the national government need to ensure that the basic digital infrastructure for rapidly growing data flows, in terms of network coverage and transmission rates in rural areas, is put in place. Further, the government must set incentives that boost investment in agriculture, especially during low time commodity prices. Lastly, it is important that the farmers accept and are able to handle the upcoming change. Not only is their attitude important, but also to ensure that they have the necessary digital skills.

The international market can only be reached by more transparency and traceability. For consumers and retailers it gets increasingly more important to trace the origin of their food. How was the crop cultivated, under what conditions did the animal grow up and be bred? At the same time, the gathering of this information can simplify the farmer´s documentation on compliance with legislation. Lastly, farmers need the security, that ownership and control of their data are protected. For this, a regulating contract law, that states that the data generated on a farm is the property of the farmer, needs to be settled.

F. Outlook on Major Trade Agreements TPP 11, EUVNFTA and Investment Protection Agreement

In January 2017, US President Donald Trump decided to withdraw from the US’ participation in the TPP. In November 2017, the remaining TPP members met at the APEC meetings and concluded about pushing forward the now called CPTPP (TPP 11) without the USA. The provision of the agreement specified that it enters into effect 60 days after ratification by at least 50% of the signatories (six of the eleven participating countries). The sixth nation to ratify the deal was Australia on 31 October 2018, therefore the agreement will finally come into force on 30 December 2018. Recently, on the 12th November 2018, Vietnam has officially became the seventh member of the CPTPP.

The CPTPP is targeting to eliminate tariff lines and custom duties among member states on certain goods and commodities to 100%. This will make the Vietnamese market more attractive due to technology advances and the reduction of production costs. The effects of the TPP 11 promise great benefits for the agriculture sector in Vietnam and will support Vietnam’s national agriculture to transform into a self-sufficient and competitive sector. Furthermore, sustainable environments are a primary concern of the CPTPP agreement. With the Most-Favored Nation Treatment principle, the TPP 11 is ensuring a fair competition, which will attract new foreign investments as well as support for the agriculture sector in its restructuring process. Moreover, national farmers must adopt high-developed technologies in nutrients and animal healthcare to be competitive. This will lead to more safety and trust of the consumer in the agriculture market in Vietnam.

One another notable major trade agreement is the European Union Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EUVNFTA). The EUVNFTA offers great opportunity to access new markets for both the EU and Vietnam and to bring more capital into Vietnam due easier access and reduction of almost all tariffs of 99%, as well as obligation to provide better conditions for workers.
Both agreements promise great benefits for the agricultural and farming sector in Vietnam. The food industry is a very hesitating industry in general. Naturally, farmers usually invest part of their gains in technology. However, they buy just the ordinary machinery instead of new technology like software or sensors. The trade agreements could lead to the end of this hesitation and finally demonstrate the economic benefits of the new technologies. Further, the co-ordination between researches, developers and technology suppliers of PLF tools could be streamlined.

To enable at least some parts of the FTA to be ratified more speedily at EU level, the EU and Vietnam agreed to take provisions on investment, for which Member State ratification is required, out of the main agreement and put them in a separate Investment Protection Agreement (IPA). Currently both the FTA and IPA are expected to be formally submitted to the Council in late 2018, possibly enabling the FTA to come into force in the second half of 2019.

Furthermore, the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) will ensure highest standards of legal certainty and enforceability and protection for investors. Every investor should use these standards. It is going to be applied under the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. Under that provision, for investment related disputes, the investors have the right to bring claims to the host country by means of international arbitration. The arbitration proceedings shall be made public as a matter of transparency in conflict cases.

Further securities come with the Government Procurement Agreement (GPA), which is going to be part of the TPP 11 and the EUVNFTA. The GPA in both agreements, mainly deals with the requirement to treat bidders or domestic bidders with investment capital and Vietnamese bidders equally when a government buys goods or requests for a service worth over the specified threshold. Vietnam undertakes to timely publish information on tender, allow sufficient time for bidders to prepare for and submit bids, maintain confidentiality of tenders. The GPA in both agreements also requires its Parties assess bids based on fair and objective principles, evaluate and award bids only based on criteria set out in notices and tender documentation, create an effective regime for complaints and settling disputes, etc.

This instrument will ensure a fair competition and projects of quality and efficient developing processes.

If you have any question on the above, please do not hesitate to contact Dr. Oliver Massmann under omassmann@duanemorris.com. Dr. Oliver Massmann is the General Director of Duane Morris Vietnam LLC.

Thank you very much!