While integrating into the global economy, the nation must not ignore investment in the rural and agricultural sectors, said the general director of the Institute of Policy and Strategy of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Dang Kim Son, at a conference here on Dec. 6.

The conference was held to review the first annual work plan of the Beyond WTO Programme's second phase. Participants addressed the societal consequences of economic integration for rural areas and discussed ways to strengthen the institutions of the market economy overall.

Farmers are the most vulnerable group when markets fluctuate as they are outside the social safety net, Son said, urging the Government to adopt policies to support the incomes of farmers, especially in times of crisis.

The domestic and international economic environment has changed considerably since Vietnam joined the World Trade Organisation (WTO), the head of the Beyond WTO Programme's steering committee, Nguyen Van Long, told the conference.

Under the circumstances of global crisis, it is necessary to build strong national institutions to maximise the benefits of integration and minimise the side effects of globalisation, Long said. To deal with difficulties, the Vietnamese Government has focused its policies on stabilising the economy and improving its competitiveness, he added.

"While building a market economy, we have to reposition the role of the State and the role of the market," said the head of the legal department of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Tran Huu Huynh.

In a recessionary period, the State needs to interfere into the market more deeply but still needs to ensure healthy operation of the market economy, Huynh said.

He suggested that the Vietnam Competition Authority and the Market Management Department no longer be placed under the authority of the Ministry of Industry and Trade, which also managed production sectors.

The Beyond WTO Programme was developed in response to a request from the Vietnamese Government for donor support to help with managing economic integration into the global economy and the transition to a market economy in the period following Vietnam 's accession to the WTO.

The second phase of the programme, launched in September 2009, has focused on capacity building for management and co-ordination of integration; support implementation for provincial action plans; and management of the multi-donor trust fund (MDTF).

The programme has been funded by the Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID)./.