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Cablegate: Hcmc Businesses See Limited Economic Impact From War In

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HO CHI MINH CITY 000268

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV
DEPARTMENT FOR OPS CENTER TFIZ01: IRAQ TASK FORCE PA/PD

E.O. 12958: N/A


TAGS: ECON EPET ETRD PREL VM
SUBJECT: HCMC BUSINESSES SEE LIMITED ECONOMIC IMPACT FROM WAR IN
IRAQ

REF: A) STATE 72824 B) HCMC 00196 C) HCMC 257

Summary
-------

1. As U.S. forces launched the first strikes against Iraq,
government and business leaders in HCMC were still largely
uncertain what effect the war would have on the local economy.
Initial reports from some sectors, such as hotels, energy, and
banking, appeared to indicate only short-term jitters, rather than
long-term fears. Companies that rely on trade with the Gulf
States, on the other hand, had the most to lose, and were most
concerned with the duration and severity of the conflict.

2. Government officials in HCMC hesitated to comment on possible
effects of the war in Iraq, deferring questions to the central
government in Hanoi. However, representatives from two large
state-owned companies said they thought the conflict wouldn't last
long enough for them to worry about any prolonged impact. That
sentiment seemed to be echoed throughout much of the rest of the
business community as well. One prominent American businessman
described the region as "well-insulated" from the conflict. He
hadn't heard of many people changing their business plans or
operations, and hadn't changed his own plans to travel to Europe
with a delegation of Vietnamese officials in April.

OCCUPANCY DROPPING AS PEOPLE FEAR DROPLETS, NOT WAR
--------------------------------------------- ------

3. While the recent outbreak of Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome
(SARS) in the region (ref A) was something of a concern for
business and leisure travelers to HCMC, few were concerned that
the war in Iraq would unsettle this otherwise stable tourist
destination (ref B). The hotel industry in HCMC has seen a
decline in reservations and an increase in cancellations over the
past two weeks. However, the management at two of the city's
leading hotels stated that a number of cancellations were due to
fear of contracting SARS, even though there have been very few
suspected cases of the illness in HCMC. Cancellations were having
the most serious impact on hotels that catered to business
travelers and conferences. Occupancy at the New World Hotel this
week fell from 98 to 60 percent, while rates at the Caravelle fell
from 90 to 70 percent. The impact on others was less significant.
Occupancy at the Omni Saigon fell from 92 to 85 percent.

HUMANITARIAN RICE EXPORTS HALTED
--------------------------------

4. Vietnam was expected to export up to one million tons of rice,
valued at US$400 million, to Iraq this year under the UN's oil-for-
food programs. With annual rice export turnover of three million
tons, this figure would have represented a full third of all rice
exports from Vietnam. The oil-for-food program has been suspended
during the current military action. According to Mrs. Cao Thi
Ngoc Hoa, Deputy General Director of Vietnam Southern Food
Corporation, her corporation was notified to suspend all rice
shipments until further notice two days ago. Ms. Hoa anticipated
that if the program did not resume, her company would have to
lower its sale price to sell the rice to another market.

MILK EXPORTS TO IRAQ
--------------------

5. Vinamilk, the major state-owned producer of milk in Vietnam,
normally exports 10 percent of its products to Iraq as powdered
milk under the oil-for-food program, generating annual income of
approximately US$60 million. While these shipments have also
stopped, officials at Vinamilk believe the conflict will be short-
lived. In the meantime, they felt there were several other
foreign markets that would buy powdered Vinamilk products.

PETROLEUM PRODUCTS PRICES RISING
--------------------------------

6. In reaction to the increase in the global price of crude oil
in 2003 (from US$26.70 to US$37.66 a barrel by the end of
February, an increase of US$10.96 a barrel, or 41 percent), the
GVN reduced the automobile gas import tax from 10 percent to 0.
Nevertheless, leaded and unleaded gas prices have still risen by 6-
7 percent, affecting all industries that rely on fossil fuels for
transportation. According to Ms. Hai Ly, a reporter for the
Saigon Times Group, the cost of shipping one ton of commodities
from Vietnam to the Middle East and Africa has increased from
US$56 to US$100. Vietnam Airlines has increased its projected
spending on gasoline from VND1,800 billion (approximately US$117
million) to VND2,000 billion (US$130 million). Vietnam Airlines
has also had to reroute its regularly scheduled transit flights
through Dubai on their way to Europe for the duration of the
conflict, adding to flight times and fuel consumption.
PROFITS, PAY AND POLYESTER RUNNING LOW
--------------------------------------
7. Along with an increase in the global price of crude oil, the
costs of PP and PE, petroleum by-products used in the production
of plastics and synthetic materials, have increased from US$1.60
to US$1.90, an increase of 19 percent. According to Mr. Le Quang
Ngoc, Senior Officer of the Commercial Department of PetroVietnam,
this rise should not affect total revenues for PetroVietnam
because the profits from selling Vietnamese crude could be used to
cover any losses from importing PP and PE. Mr. Pham Gia Hung, an
officer at Vinatex textile manufacturing company, noted that while
the overall volume of textile exports to the Middle East was
relatively small (approximately US$4.6 million, only 0.17 percent
of the total market), the rise in shipping costs and synthetic
fibers combined with other factors related to market instability
could affect the industry overall.

LENDERS WORRY
-------------

8. Several banks that lend to companies that export to the Middle
East were worried that the companies would not be able to make
their payments, according to Ms. Ly and Mr. Nguyen Tran Khanh,
General Director of InvestConsult. A decline or interruption in
trade as a result of the conflict could affect exports estimated
at US$300-$400 million in footwear, garments, ceramic products,
pottery, cooking oil, detergents, shampoo, soap, and agricultural
products. Banks and investors were also concerned about the
effect of any potential fluctuations in the U.S. dollar.

NO DEMONSTRATIONS TO TIE UP HCMC
--------------------------------

9. With the start of military action, the level of protest
activity in HCMC dropped precipitously, just two days after a
peaceful demonstration in the main tourist square downtown drew an
estimated crowd of 10,000. Confirming Post's belief that the
earlier demonstrations were orchestrated to reflect support for
official GVN positions, we received reliable reports that high
school and university students in at least two different locations
were given the choice of joining organized demonstrations or
failing their courses (Ref C).

COMMENT
-------

10. Most ConGen contacts in the business community did not appear
to have given much thought to the long-term impact the war could
have on their businesses -- a possible indication that they were
not overly concerned over any effects that might be felt here.
Even among those who had considered the business consequences,
most assumed the action would be over too quickly to make much of
a dent in the local economy. A prolonged war, however, does have
the potential to reduce somewhat southern Vietnam's high
expectations for continued double digit economic growth rates.

YAMAUCHI

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