The sugarcane industry must quickly restructure and enhance its competitiveness so it will not lose out in the regional market, especially when the tax rate is cut to zero by 2018 as part of commitments to the ASEAN Economic Community.

Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development Cao Duc Phat made the call at a May 18 conference in Hanoi to discuss measures to raise the competitiveness of the country's sugar industry.

It was reported that the cost of sugarcane production in Vietnam is the highest in the world, averaging about 12 million VND (550 USD) per tonne. Higher prices mean Vietnamese sugar is unable to compete in the world market.

Minister Phat said it is essential for the industry to focus on developing new sugarcane varieties with higher quality and yield, and promote collaboration between farmers, sugar producers and distributors while developing support products to increase added value.

He also called on sugar factories to think about building material zones and applying new technology in cultivation as well as production.

The sugar industry should also take advantage of its own by-products, such as producing fertiliser from sugarcane waste.

Illegally imported sugar is another problem for the industry, with an estimated 400,000-500,000 tonnes of sugar imported each year, so tighter control was needed, participants at the meeting said.

Currently Vietnam has 305,000 ha of sugarcane plantations with a capacity of 65 tonnes per hectare.-VNA