by Le Hung Vong
Vietnamese exporters were hoping that parboiled rice would give them a helping hand considering the difficulties faced in rice production and export.
Parboiled rice refers to the grain that has been partially boiled in the husk, boosting its nutritional profile and changing its texture.
Parboiled rice thus fetches higher export prices than traditionally processed kinds.
Arup Kumar Gupta, general director of VAP Foods Co. Ltd., said the global commercial volumes of rice amount to 35 – 36 million tonnes per year, including 5-6 million tonnes of parboiled rice.
Some 70 per cent of the latter now comes from Thailand and India, but Viet Nam has a price advantage over Thailand, while India's incoherent export policy makes its products less competitive, Gupta said.
Viet Nam also has the advantage of being a traditional exporter of several popular varieties of rice, he said.
Parboiled rice often costs 30-50 per cent more than white rice. Through a process consisting of soaking, steaming, drying, and hardening, it is protected against insects and nutrients are retained.
Parboiled rice is consumed in West Africa, the Middle East, South America, and some Asian countries.
There are currently two rice parboiling plants in Viet Nam, one operated by the HCM City-based Vinh Phat JSC in the Mekong province of An Giang and the other by a Thai company in Tien Giang Province.
VAP, a joint venture between the Viet Nam Southern Food Corporation (Vinafood 2) and Auro Capital and Phoenix Commodities, is investing $15 million to build a 500-tonne plant in Long An Province which will go on stream in July.
"This is a prime time to invest in processing parboiled rice in Viet Nam," Gupta told a meeting last week.
But it is not easy for local firms to break into the global market because it is dominated by Thailand and India, he warned.
Nguyen Tho Tri, deputy CEO of Vinafood 2, added it is not simple also because it is dominated by many major multinational groups.
According to the Viet Nam Food Association, in the first quarter Viet Nam exported 16,400 tonnes of parboiled rice, accounting for 1.13 per cent of Viet Nam's total rice exports.
The Australian Government is trying to stem the negative fallout of fears raised in the Vietnamese media about the safety and reliability of Australian meat.
"Recent reporting in Viet Nam's media concerning beef imported from Australia through a local company does not accurately reflect the high safety and reliability of exports of Australian meat," the country's ambassador, Hugh Borrowman, said.
A press release sent by the Australian consulate in HCM City to Viet Nam News on Friday said "Australia is committed to ensuring the food safety and wholesomeness of meat exported to Viet Nam, and has strong regulatory controls in place for the production of meat for export.
"Establishments exporting meat to Viet Nam must … comply with stringent legislative requirements, including food safety requirements."
The Canada-based Asian Coast Development Ltd. (ACDL), the developer of the Ho Tram Strip casino resort in the southern coastal province of Ba Ria – Vung Tau, said it has received approval from the Government to open its first integrated resorts complex.
"This is a good start and we are committed to implementing the next phases of the project," the company's CEO Lloyd Nathan said in a statement.
ACDL is building the second tower of the first resort, which will have 541 five-star rooms in the first phase.
The licence allows ACDL to operate gambling tables for foreign nationals. In the first stage ACDL plans to set up 180 dealer tables and 2,000 electronic gaming units.
These are the maximum allowed by law for a casino in Viet Nam, which requires an operator to have at least 10 years experience in running an entertainment complex and a minimum investment of US$4 billion.
Nathan described it as "a landmark day for the Ho Tram Strip."
Licensed in early 2008, the Ho Tram Strip will eventually have two resorts with gaming facilities and three other five-star resorts, a Greg Norman-designed championship golf course, and other related real estate developments.
It will also have restaurants, convention and meeting space, luxury retail, bars, a spa, three swimming pools, beach facilities, and other leisure amenities.
Nathan said ACDL intends to open the resort and casino as soon as possible though an exact date has yet to be determined.
Nguyen Van Son, deputy director of the Ba Ria-Vung Tau Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said on the provincial website the Ho Tram Strip would pave the way for the development of not only the province's tourism but also dozens of tourism projects in the coastal Xuyen Moc District.
He said the complex would collaborate with the Southern Air Service Co. for charter flights for VIP guests from Tan Son Nhat Airport in HCM City.
Under a deal with ACDL, giant US casino operator MGM was to have managed the facility, which was to include a 1,100-room hotel under the MGM brand name.
But last month MGM Resorts International pulled out of the deal.
Ho Tram is by far the largest casino to be licensed by the Government which has also allowed five smaller casinos to operate under a pilot scheme.
The northern province of Quang Ninh has two of them, while the remaining are in Hai Phong, Lao Cai, and Da Nang. There are also gambling tables at several major hotels across the country, but these venues are not thought to be popular with gamblers.
None of the casinos allow entry to Vietnamese nationals.
Approving casino operations has been a controversial topic in the last few years.
In a draft decree in September 2012, the Ministry of Finance suggested legalising casinos in Viet Nam, but with strict conditions. — VNS