Filip Graovac, Asia Foundation deputy country representative in Vietnam, speaks at the seminar (Photo: VNA)

HCM City (VNA) - Vietnamese handicraft firms need to make greater efforts to meet the requirements of foreign buyers, said participants at a seminar in HCM City on April 11.

Speaking at the Improving Sector Standards and Practices for Export Products in Vietnamese Handicraft Sector, Le Ba Ngoc, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Handicraft Exporters Association (VietCraft), said foreign importers increasingly require their suppliers to meet the sectors standards on quality, corporate social responsibility, and environment.

A survey of 100 international buyers done by VietCraft with funding from the Australian Government found that 75 percent of importers wanted their suppliers to comply with standards in the next five years, he said.

“If we do not meet standards, we will find it hard to export our products.”

Filip Graovac, Asia Foundation deputy country representative, said: “These requirements put enormous pressure on handicraft producers to devise means of keeping their costs low while also meeting the new requirements of buyers, and at the same time creating an opportunity for these producers to raise their capacity to meet international standards.”

The Asia Foundation implemented a project funded by the Australian Government to support VietCraft to raise sector standards and practices.

This was done through a series of activities including research into international standards; development of a manual on international compliance criteria with special focus on ceramics, lacquer ware, rattan, and bamboo; support for handicraft enterprises with improvement plans including design and marketing; and policy advocacy for further compliance initiatives among other handicraft products with exporters, business associations, and relevant government agencies.

“However, the number of the international compliances keeps increasing over time, and together with the already lengthy and complicated sets of standards, this is causing difficulties for small- and medium-sized companies to use it in diagnosing their actual situation and designing potential improvement plans,” Graovac said.

The Asia Foundation has supported VietCraft to digitise the international compliances as well as sector standards into business compliance software. The software content is a comprehensive library of international compliances and sector standards consolidated by the project experts who are also business practitioners from the handicrafts sector.

The user-friendly software would not only provide handicraft enterprises an online tool to determine their status, but also create opportunities for them to discuss with and acquire technical assistance from other experts and practitioners, he said.

Ngoc said the association regularly organises training courses and provides consultancy to help enterprises comply with the standards.

Talking about the difficulties in complying with the standards, he said nearly 70 percent of firms complain that they do not have enough trained staff for the purpose. "Therefore, training human resources is the first thing they need to do," he said.

"Lack of resources for implementing the compliances is another problem," he said.

Nguyen Huy Thong, deputy director of Ngoc Dong Ha Nam Co Ltd, a handicrafts company, said the compliance costs are high as firms need to earmark money for fire prevention, health checks for workers, waste treatment, and more.

Delegates at the seminar learnt how to use the new business compliance software to measure their present level of compliance.

The workshop is the last activity under a project to build VietCraft’s capacity and raise sector standards and practices.

Vietnam earned more than 650 million USD from exports of handicrafts in the first three months of the year.

The full-year figure is expected to top 2.1 billion USD.-VNA