Luxury goods including high-priced cars and motorbikes, cosmetics, mobile phones and alcoholic beverages continue to be imported despite a package of measures unveiled by the Government last month to reduce the trade deficit.

Their imports had in fact risen sharply at southern ports in recent times, Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper reported.

In the first two months they jumped by 24.8 percent to 1.1 billion USD or 7.4 percent of total imports.

The goods subject to import restrictions in Vietnam include tobacco, automobiles, motorcycles and spares, consumer goods, alcoholic beverages, and cosmetics.

Cosmetics imported from the US, Japan, Malaysia and the Republic of Korea and sold at HCM City shopping malls like Vincom, Parkson, Diamond Plaza and Zen Plaza have become very popular.

A sales agent who declined to be named said imported shower gels and shampoos were competing with local brands at cosmetics shops.

She said they had previously been brought home by people travelling abroad but were now imported.

Hien, a sales agent at a HCM City-based firm that imports and distributes shower gels, said his company imported seven containers of these cosmetics every month for 14 billion VND (660,000 USD).

According to the customs office at Sai Gon Port, cosmetics imports have increased sharply in the last few months.

At Cat Lai Port, also in the city, cosmetics worth 3.42 million USD had been imported by March 10, a year-on-year increase of 54.8 percent.

Import of upscale mobile phones is also on the rise.

Nguyen Quoc Bao, chairman of mobile phone company Thanh Cong, said his company imported around 5,000 handsets a month.

Consumer trends have changed with many customers now preferring expensive models instead of the low-end ones they did even three years ago.

The Sai Gon Port customs said imports of consumers goods through the port had amounted to 577.4 million USD in the first two months, 29.5 percent up from the same period last year.

They include 266,000 hand phones worth nearly 7 million USD, a 200 percent increase in volume and 177.4 percent rise in turnover.

According to the National Statistics Bureau, in January and February, 10,600 automobiles were imported at a cost of 179 million USD.

They include top-of-the-range brands such as Maybach, BMW, Lexus, Bentley, Porsche, and Ferrari.

Euro Auto, a company that specialises in BMW cars, said the company had sold more than 150 this year, with the cheapest being a BMW X1 costing more than 1.15 billion VND (54,761 USD). The company also said 31 Rolls-Royces had been imported at more than 400,000 USD each before tax.

A customs officer, who asked not to be named, said it was difficult to limit the import of luxury goods since the country had to cut tariffs as committed under the WTO roadmap./.