As Tet, the biggest Vietnamese holiday of the year, draws near, holiday shopping has created strong demand for consumer goods. Viet Nam News reporter Le Quynh Anh spoke with law enforcers on how they will address the issue of smuggled goods, which often proliferate ahead of Tet.
Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang, addressing the public's questions on the national television
There has been a major spotlight for the last few years on rampant commercial fraud – particularly the smuggling and selling of low-quality/counterfeit goods that is often at its peak as Tet approaches.
|Vu Huy Hoang
This year, for better preparation, we started taking drastic measures to tackle the issue of smuggling as early as the beginning of 2012. Government leaders have shown strong commitment to this cause. For example, earlier this month, Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Thien Nhan led an inter-agency team to survey the poultry smuggling situation in Mong Cai city in the northern border province of Quang Ninh, where many smugglers have focused their activities.
I believe that preventing commercial fraud is an enormous task that requires concerted efforts of all relevant agencies. The Ministry of Industry and Trade certainly cannot do it alone.
Each agency should finish its work but also co-operate with others. For example, the border soldiers can stop smugglers right before they cross the border, while customs offices can take responsibility for preventing smuggled goods from entering Viet Nam.
If all these agencies work together efficiently, I believe eventually we could push smuggled goods out of our country, protecting both our consumers and our domestic production.
Nguyen Cong San, deputy director of Ha Noi Market Watch
The smuggled goods generally find their way into the domestic market via the road routes from the borders in the north and central regions. Certain fast-selling, high-value goods are transported by air.
|Nguyen Cong San
During the fourth quarter, we observe an increasing volume of goods circulating on the market, so we have to strengthen our inspections to limit contraband and/or counterfeit goods from being sold as well as to prevent commerce fraud.
Instead of conducting a broad inspection, we are targeting a number of big smugglers whom we believe have carried out large-scale smuggling operations. We have been able to locate a number of warehouses in Ha Noi that they use and identify the routes they use to smuggle goods from the border into the capital. A common trick they rely on is to divide the goods into smaller packages and use fake invoices.
We have also discovered that a number of Vietnamese enterprises outsource the manufacturing of high-quality Vietnamese goods to other countries and then try to bring the goods illegally back into the country to be sold.
Carrying out these inspections is quite tricky: on the one hand, we have to make sure that we can detect any violations, but at the same time, we do not want to get in the way of enterprises' operations and risk disrupting their supply chains.
This year we are paying special attention to monitoring the flow of smuggled poultry from the border, since food safety is one of our top concerns, and we hope to clamp down on poultry smugglers by the end of March.
We will also step up surveillance on other Tet-related goods such as firecrackers, clothing and counterfeit wine and tobacco. So from now until the end of Tet, my staff will regularly inspect major warehouses and shopping places for these types of goods.
We have co-operated with other agencies such as police and customs forces and local authorities in order to remove the smuggled goods from the market. Goods smuggling is a serious problem for the economy because it both harms the healthy competitiveness of the domestic market and affects consumers. I think we need to raise the technical barriers for imported goods to make inspections easier.
Having said that, I think all the competent agencies, no matter how hard-working they are, can't solve the problem alone, given that there are tens of thousands of enterprises engaged in goods trading.
I believe consumers can play an important role in addressing this issue by being more quality-conscious. For example, they should only buy goods with a clear origin and require sellers to prove their goods are legally imported. This will both lessen our workload and help them protect themselves from low-quality goods.
Pham Quoc Huy, commander-in-chief of Tan Thanh border station, Van Lang District, Lang Son Province
Our station monitors 13 kilometres of the Viet Nam-China border. The area under our watch includes two busy border gates, Tan Thanh and Coc Nam, where every day thousands of people cross the border to trade goods.
|Pham Quoc Huy
In the holiday season, there are even more. This is the busiest time of the year for us and we have to be on duty 24/7 to prevent the influx of contraband goods from the other side of the border.
We have already set up tents to monitor the mountain trails that we believe smugglers often use to avoid being caught. Some of the paths have been fenced with barbed wire, but this only helps to some extent. Smugglers are getting craftier. They rarely transport goods in large quantity; instead, they divide them into smaller packages and hire local people to transport them.
This is an ingenious trick because it takes advantage of our Government's preferential treatment for residents near the border. Decision QD 254/2006/QD-TTg, which regulates cross-border trade, includes a provision that residents near the border get a tax exemption for imported goods whose value is less than VND2 million ($100).
Since local residents are generally poor, it is virtually impossible for them to reject the tempting commissions smugglers can offer. For each border-crossing trip, it is reported that they are paid VND150,000.
The system works like this: smugglers have local people carry the goods in small quantities across the border, then collect the goods to legalise them with invoices before moving them further inland. The smugglers themselves never appear, so we have to deal with those local people. But we can't charge them with smuggling goods.
The most serious violation they might be subject to is illegal border-crossing, but the fine for that crime is hardly sufficient to deter them. While we have been working with local authorities to explain to residents how their involvement in smuggling could be harmful to the economy, the direct economic benefits seem to be too attractive for them.
The constant battle against smuggling requires concerted efforts from all relevant agencies. Our team's successful efforts to prevent smuggling would be pointless if smugglers could still bring them into the country via other routes.
Having said that, I think that smuggled goods will still have a place in the market as long as there is demand for them. The main competitive edge of smuggling goods compared to domestic goods is their cheap price - either because the goods are inherently cheaper, or because their price has been reduced because they avoided import taxes.
We need to find the root cause - the smugglers themselves. We know they come from inside the country so other agencies should take stronger action against them. I don't think the current punishment levels are deterrent enough. — VNS