Industrial zones (IZs), export processing zones (EPZs) and economic zones (EZs) have contributed to building modern industrial-urban areas, modernising infrastructure systems, creating jobs, developing a skilled and qualified workforce and providing a facelift to rural areas.

Minister Bui Quang Vinh made the statement at a conference in Hanoi on Feb. 17 held to review the construction and development of IZs, EPZs and EZs over the past two decades and to find solutions for their further development.

"Since the establishment of Tan Thuan EPZ in 1991, the country is now home to 267 IZs and EPZs which are responsible for around 40 percent of the total foreign direct investment (FDI) registered in Vietnam, over 30 percent and 20 percent of the country's total industrial production and export value, respectively, and provide jobs to more than 1.6 million labourers," he said.

Figures from the ministry reveal that the zones cover an area of around 76,000ha, of which 46,000ha has been rented.

By the end of last year, the zones had attracted 4,113 foreign-invested projects with 59.6 billion USD in registered capital. FDI disbursement in the zones was 27 billion USD, reaching 45 percent of the total registered capital during the past 20 years.

FDI flows in the zones have also accounted for 35 to 40 percent of the country's annually registered capital while FDI for industrial production has made up 80 percent of the total investment in Vietnam's industry.

Vinh also said the zones had contributed 32 percent to industrial production value and 25 percent to export turnover, paying 5.96 billion USD to the State budget.

Last year alone, 6.7 billion USD in FDI was registered in the zones while 7.28 billion USD was dispersed.
"However, development of the IZs, EPZs and EZs has revealed shortcomings in planning, policies and mechanisms, low technology levels and difficulties in land clearance and infrastructure development," said Nguyen Van Trung, the deputy minister.

Trung added that environmental shortcomings remain in IZs despite improvements. Dozens of IZ-based enterprises have not seriously abided by environmental protection laws while State agencies have collaborated in environmental monitoring and supervision has been lax, he said.

Participants also discussed other shortcomings.

Chairman of HCM City People's Committee Le Hoang Quan said the city and neighbouring provinces such as Dong Nai and Binh Duong had several hundred IZs and EPZs.

"However, most of them were not linked to the region's economic situation or the network of universities and colleges, making their support industries weak," Quan said.

Do Thu Hang, chairwoman of the Development of Bien Hoa Industrial Zones Corporation's (SONADEZI) management board, said tax and preferential policies in some IZs are not as attractive as those outside, meaning investors tended to rent land outside the zones to enjoy lower prices.

"For example, IZs in Dong Nai province attracted 41 FDI projects in 2008 but only six the following year," she added.

Chairwoman of the Vietnam Investment and Development Group Nguyen Thi Nguyet Huong said several localities have applied high rent prices, boosting them beyond investor thresholds.

In addition, bank loan interest rates for investment in the zones is high because they are considered real estate loans, she said.

Speaking at the conference, Deputy Prime Minister Hoang Trung Hai said development of the zones has not reached the potential offered by the land or met the established targets.

Hai urged the ministry and localities to focus on three key factors including infrastructure, labour training and legal mechanisms to increase the occupation rate in the zones to 70 percent by 2015 for an industrial production value contribution of 50 percent.

The deputy PM asked the ministry to establish a central steering committee on the issue to resolve shortcomings and difficulties, especially in implementing big projects.

He said the Government will review the zones' planning in the near future and cease to approve new projects.

The Government will strictly forbid using rice cultivating land to build IZs./.