by Linh Mai
|Boats anchored on the Ka Long River in Mong Cai City wait for goods to be loaded.
The busy trading atmosphere at Mong Cai City often astonishes those who visit the border checkpoint in Quang Ninh Province, 350 kilometres north of Ha Noi.
Enjoying a favourable geographical position on the bank of Ka Long River bordering China's Guangxi Province and the Bac Bo (Tonkin) Gulf, the city has risen to one of the nation's most important crossborder economic zones.
The border checkpoint starts its busy day in the morning with long lines of people queuing to cross in both directions. Some are tourists, some are traders, most of whom travel back and forth every day on business.
A large number of lorries, containers and cars ply the streets day and night, carrying goods for export or import. There is everything from clothes, shoes, fruit to toys and fresh or frozen seafood.
At the city's central market, porters are kept busy loading and unloading goods as traders frantically buy and sell goods throughout the day.
In the 16 years since Viet Nam started to develop its cross-border economic zones, the economic and cultural exchanges with China have brought a new image to the region. Preferential policies applied at Mong Cai have helped.
Trade centres and shops mushroom, boosting the local economy strongly and people's living standards.
Mong Cai City saw two-way trade increase by more than 25 per cent each year from 2006-10. Last year's turnover hit US$6.22 billion.
At present, there are 25 foreign-invested projects with total registered capital of nearly $279 million, about 700 non-State enterprises and nearly 6,380 business households throughout the city.
The ongoing rapid and dynamic growth of the city was given a further lift when Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung approved the establishment of Mong Cai Cross-Border Economic Zone in April. The plan is to turn Mong Cai into a modern international border city.
Covering an area of more than 121,190ha of land and sea, the economic zone includes the whole of Mong Cai City, Hai Ha Industrial and Seaport Zone, Quang Ha Town and six communes of Hai Ha District.
The economic zone will include a non-tariff zone, an international border zone, industrial zones, urban zones, financial centre and administrative centre.
"Setting up the planning of socio-economic development and construction of Mong Cai City is urgent," said the secretary of Quang Ninh Province Party's Committee, Pham Minh Chinh, at a recent meeting with local authorities.
"This is to ensure the city becomes a truly modern international border city – a gateway to ASEAN countries, to China, East Asia, and the Pacific."
During the next 10 years, the spotlight will fall on trade in services, which is expected to increase at a rate higher than goods trade.
|A view of Mong Cai International Border Gate. The number of people crossing the border at the gate has been steadily increasing during the past years. City authorities want to further boost two-way trade with the neighbouring Chinese provinces.
As part of socio-economic development, tourism, of course, will be a focus. Mong Cai City has great potential for tourism development.
There are many modern shopping centres – and the peaceful Tra Co Beach stretches for a dozen kilometres. It is reputed to be one of the most beautiful beaches in Viet Nam.
However, experts agree that to make tourism succeed, Mong Cai must link up with Ha Long Bay and other northern border provinces and China.
At a workshop in March to discuss turning Mong Cai into a modern international city, deputy chairman of Quang Ninh Province's People's Committee, Nguyen Van Thanh, said lack of infrastructure and high quality human resources were the biggest problem.
"To counterbalance competition with China's Dongxing City, a breakthrough in the infrastructure development was vital," said Bui Tat Thang from the Development Strategy Institute under the Ministry of Planning and Development.
He said that, for example, the available space for storage in the city was only about 15,000sq.m while demand was three times higher.
A major piece of infrastructure was the construction of the Bac Luan (Beilun) Bridge 2 across the Ka Long River, directly connecting Dongxing in China and Mong Cai in Viet Nam. This will help promote travel and the movement of cargo.
Priority will also be given to building a highway connecting Ha Long with Mong Cai cities – a stretch of the Noi Bai-Mong Cai Highway project – while incentives are being offered to those investing in transport, depots and ports.
Some experts propose holding on to 50 to 70 per cent of customs' revenue to mobilise capital for infrastructure.
Tran Dinh Thien from the Viet Nam Institutes of Economics, said the emphasis should also be on building human resources of high quality.
All in all, as the thousands of locals and tourists who have already visited Mong Cai can confirm, there is plenty to buy in the city – from the delicious Chinese army biscuits to piles of cheap designer clothing. — VNS