For the first time ASEAN has surpassed the EU in importing Vietnamese goods, reported the Ministry of Industry and Trade.

In July, Vietnam exported 6.21 billion USD worth of goods to ASEAN while the export value to the EU was 5.98 billion USD.

Nguyen Thanh Bien, deputy minister of Industry and Trade, attributed the EU's smaller import consumption to the debt crisis.

Export turnover to ASEAN is expected to hit 8.88 billion USD by the end of the year while the estimated figure for the EU market will be 10.9 billion USD, according to export plans from the ministry.

Vietnam will have a difficult time boosting its exports to the Southeast Asian block because Vietnam and ASEAN countries produce similar, competitive commodities.

" Vietnam can capitalise on opportunities to enhance exports to other markets via the free trade agreements with ASEAN nations rather than approaching a strong export growth in the block," said the ministry's multi-lateral trade policy department director Tran Quoc Khanh.

About 13 sectors' export values were higher than 1 billion USD each during the first eight months of the year, reported the ministry. Staple exports include textiles and garments, footwear, wooden furniture, seafood and coffee.

Traditional markets, including the EU, the US , Japan , mainland China and the Republic of Korea , continue to be the largest consumers of Vietnamese exports.

Demand fluctuations in these markets would directly impact Vietnam 's exports, said experts.

Nguyen Son, deputy general secretary of the Vietnam Textile and Apparel Association (Vitas), said the US economy's poor performance in July resulted in lower demand.

Nguyen Ton Quyen, deputy chairman of the Vietnam Timber and Forest Product Association, said Vietnam aims to earn 1.3 billion USD from wooden furniture exports to major markets this year.

Russia , Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America markets have been difficult to penetrate, especially during the global economic crisis.

The textile and garment industry has had difficulty tapping into the Russian market because of the country's high import taxes. Africa has a large amount of demand for clothing, but enterprises have had difficulties negotiating payment methods.

Experts warned local firms about technical barriers in large markets.

New legislation in the US and the EU are likely to have an adverse impact on Vietnamese exports, said experts./.