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Cablegate: Vietnam -- Biotech Regs

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








E.O. 12958: N/A


1. Summary: Vietnam does not have a biotech framework
law, but one is being developed. Vietnam does have
several biotech labeling laws. However, they have not
been implemented. There have not been any problems
with biotech commodity trade, but Post will have to
monitor the development of the new biotech framework
law and the labeling regulations. End Summary.

2. No Problem: Without any real biotech laws or
guidelines, Vietnam imports biotech commodities (e.g.,
corn, soybeans, soybean meal, cotton) from various
trading partners without any apparent concerns.

3. However: A recent (July 2003) Food Safety
Ordinance, approved by the National Assembly's
Standing Committee, notes:

(Article 8)... that it is strictly prohibited to
produce or trade in genetically modified foods, which
have not been approved by a competent State authority.

(Article 20) Genetically modified food or materials
must be labeled, and the government shall stipulate in
detail the management and use of genetically modified

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4. No Guidelines: Despite the Food Safety Ordinance
(and earlier laws), the Government of Vietnam has not
yet decided which Vietnamese agencies will issue
guidelines or standards for biotech foods. Post will
continue to monitor developments.


5. Embassy Science Fellow: During August-September
2003, Post hosted Dr. Phil Schwab, from USDA/CSREES,
as an Embassy Science Fellow to work with Vietnamese
authorities drafting biotech legislation. The
following information is based on his exit report.

6. The Vietnamese government has identified the
development of biotechnology as a major priority and
is dedicating significant funding to equip
laboratories and train scientists for work in
genotyping, genetic engineering and biosafety. The
government is currently drafting legislation to
regulate the import, field-testing and commercial
release of genetically engineered organisms. Although
the technology to create transgenic plants is rapidly
being adopted, experience with genetically modified
organisms and biosafety regulation is limited


7. Currently a legal framework for the regulation of
agricultural biotechnology does not exist in Vietnam.
The government is currently undertaking a multi-agency
effort to draft an official policy. This effort has
been underway for nearly five years. Currently the
responsibility for drafting the biosafety framework is
under the responsibility of the Ministry of Natural
Resources and Environment (MONRE). Other ministries
involved in the drafting process include Agriculture
and Rural Development (MARD), Science and Technology,
and Trade and these ministries are quite deferential
to MONRE when discussing issues related to the
biosafety regulation. MONRE reports that a final draft
of the regulation is scheduled to be presented to the
government as a Prime Minister's Decree by the end of
the year. MONRE is also responsible for activities in
Vietnam related to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol
and the principles of the protocol appears to be
driving the effort to develop the Vietnamese biosafety
regulation. Vietnam expects to become a party to the
protocol, perhaps in early 2004.

8. The current lack of a regulation has several
implications. Many other Southeast Asian nations are
parties to the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol and will
soon implement the requirements for regulation of
trade in living modified organisms. Scientists who are
working on the development of transgenic plants are
not able to officially conduct field tests. Scientists
are not able to acquire transgenic crop varieties
developed in other countries. Companies are not
officially able to test, nor market transgenic crop
varieties in Vietnam. Many people report that insect-
resistant, transgenic cotton of Chinese origin is
being grown under field trial or commercial production
in Vietnam, although the size or scope of the effort
cannot be confirmed.

9. Recent drafts of the Prime Minister's Decree
contain provisions for notification of import,
laboratory, field-testing and use of genetically
modified organisms. In general, the most recent draft
contains many of the common elements of existing
agricultural biotechnology regulations and are much
improved over earlier drafts and is based on
principles of scientific risk assessment. However,
some concerns still remain, including multiple layers
of approval, the breadth of the role of provincial
authorities, and regulation of the "products" of GMOs.
It is not clear to what extent local authorities will
have the ability to approve or deny the field-testing
or production of transgenic crops. It is not clear to
what level products derived from transgenic plants
will be submitted to regulation. For instance the
draft does not differentiate between products like
oils refined from transgenic crops and clothing
derived from transgenic cotton. A new draft is
circulating among concerned agencies at the time of
writing this report.


10. The overriding concern discussed regarding
transgenic organisms in Vietnam is the implications
for export markets. Vietnam is a major exporter of
rice and, many people expressed concern over about the
introduction of transgenic rice varieties due to the
potential for export disruption. The fisheries sector
is also concerned about the trade implications of
products like soybean oil made from transgenic
soybeans and the possible labeling requirements
associated with its use in seafood processing.
Several people discussed the possibility of a nation
exporting a transgenic organism to Vietnam that is not
approved in the country of origin that could cause
subsequent problems for Vietnamese exports.

11. A secondary concern revolves around the impact of
transgenic technology on the diversity of the
agricultural landscape, both in terms of the crops and
the number of varieties grown. Due to the dominant
smallholder nature of Vietnamese agriculture,
diversity is currently quite high although a small
number of varieties of major crops like rice dominate
the market and rice is by far and away the dominant
crop planted in the most productive agricultural
regions. The related concern of corporate control of
transgenic seeds and related costs were also
mentioned, especially by the press. Intellectual
property is a current issue as the government attempts
to implement Plant Variety Protection (PVP/UPOV)
procedures. There is very little control of
intellectual property in Vietnam and many scientists
see this as a barrier to the development of new
advanced crop varieties.

12. Most scientists in fields related to crop science
voice few concerns over the safety of transgenic
organisms and are eager to move forward with the
development of the technology. The only major
hesitation detected was in the already mentioned case
of rice, however there was a general consensus among
many scientists that a non-food crop species, such as
cotton, should be the initial test case. Despite this
concern several research institutes have transgenic
versions of many food crops, including rice, and the
Cuu Long Rice Research Institute has a substantial
program to develop efficient rice transformation

13. Among food processing and technology researchers
there was more concern about the long-term impact of
consumption of transgenic food products. This may have
something to do with where many of these individuals
were trained (Europe, Japan, etc). This concern was
echoed in questions received from press who are
clearly aware of the objections to transgenic crop
technology raised in Europe and other nations. At this
time, however, there does not appear to be an active
anti-biotech campaign or effort underway in Vietnam to
attempt to sway public opinion away from adoption of

14. Complicating matters related to transgenic
regulation is the lack of capacity for monitoring or
testing for the presence of transgenic plants. Recent
food safety legislation required that foods derived
from genetically modified organisms must be labeled.
However, experts from universities, government
ministries and even private firms admit that there is
no current capacity for effective enforcement of this
requirement. Some universities and institutes,
including the Pasteur Institute in Ho Chi Minh City
are beginning to experiment with protocols to test for
the presence of genetically modified organisms.
Private food safety testing firms admit that there are
more serious problems, such as microbial and chemical
contamination that need to be addressed before much
attention can be turned to the issue of genetically
modified organisms.

============================================= ====
============================================= ====

15. The development of biotechnology is one of the top
priorities of the Vietnamese government, second only
after information technology. In nearly any news
report on science and technology, biotechnology is
mentioned as a priority. In discussions over
technology cooperation with other nations,
biotechnology is also emphasized. At least from the
level of vice-minister and on down in the Ministry of
Agriculture and the Ministry of Science and
Technology, the government is committed to moving
ahead with new investment and activities in
biotechnology. The development of the biosafety law is
one example of this commitment.

16. Agriculture is one of the areas receiving
substantial government investment in biotechnology,
and this investment appears to be targeted to specific
institutions. The definition of biotechnology depends
on the institution. In general, biotechnology
currently is limited to tissue culture, anther
culture, RFLP and PCR-based genotyping of pathogens
and germplasm, and some marker assisted selection.
However, several institutions are forging ahead with
the development of transgenic and advanced genomic
technologies - including the Institute for
Biotechnology (Hanoi), the Cuu Long Rice Research
Institute (Can Tho), the Agricultural Genetics
Institute (Hanoi) and the Institute of Tropical
Biology in Ho Chi Minh City. Scientists are using
both agrobacterium-mediated and "gene gun" technology
to create transgenic plants. Transgenic plants of
rice, cotton, banana, Paulownia, and papaya were
observed growing under laboratory or greenhouse
conditions. The Institute for Tropical Biology and the
Institute for Biotechnology both have greenhouses
dedicated for transgenic plants. The Cuu Long Rice
Research Institute is currently constructing a
dedicated greenhouse for transgenic plants. There are
reports of transgenic, insect-resistant cotton plants
being tested in Vietnam, but it is difficult to find a
consistent report on the size or scope of the trial.

17. Biotechnology is viewed as a means to both
increase the productivity and profitability of
Vietnamese agriculture. Animal biotechnology is
significantly behind plant technology and all
transgenic work is currently being done in plants. A
great deal of effort is being focused on the
development in insect resistant (Bt) crop varieties -
not only to control the many insect pests inherent in
a tropical environment, but also in an effort to
reduce reliance on expensive imported pesticides.
Recently, however, the focus of agricultural research
is moving from a focus on quantity of production to
product quality. One example is the project at the Cuu
Long Rice Research Institute to discover genes
associated with aromatic traits in rice and other
high-value quality characteristics. Golden Rice
appears to be mainly a scientific curiosity rather
than a research priority - this may be to known
limitations of the technology as well as the overall
hesitancy to introduce transgenic rice varieties in

18. The main challenges facing the Vietnamese
agricultural research system are the sheer number of
agricultural research institutes, the extraordinarily
broad, overlapping missions of the individual
institutes, and the lack of coordination between
institutes and universities. Commonly two or more
institutes have programs addressing the same or
similar issues in the same cropping environment. This
appears to be a greater problem in the north where the
many MARD research institutes often have similar plant
breeding, management and disease control programs.
What limited collaboration among institutions that
does exist appears to be mainly based on personal
association rather than any particular standard
procedure to encourage collaboration. There seems to
be little communication and collaboration between
research institutions in the north and their southern
counterparts. Both regions appear to have programs
addressing the central areas of the country.

19. The missions of many of the Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development Institutes encompass
basic research, variety development, seed production
and extension for the particular commodity of
responsibility. In several instances, research
institutes must rely on income generated from the sale
of seed, micro-propagated plants or other services in
order to fund their basic research activities.

20. Equipment and facility resources vary widely
between institutions, but are improving overall. The
Institute of Biotechnology and the Institute for
Tropical Biology both recently received large grants
specifically for work related to transgenic
technology. Most of the MARD institutes received
equipment funding within the last year. A commonly
quoted figure was $2 million. In most institutes this
means PCR machines and gel reading equipment. A few
institutes have automated genetic sequencer machines.
Several institutes are planning to purchase equipment
for micro-array technology within the next year.
Training in the use of the new equipment also varies
widely between institutions. In some cases it appeared
that the PCR machines had never been used in others
staff admitted having difficulty using the equipment.
There is also substantial foreign investment,
especially from European, Japanese and Australian aid
agencies in several government institutes and

21. Human capacity remains a concern and a limitation.
Most research institutes and universities have a small
number of PhD trained scientists and a growing number
of MS level faculty. A majority of senior scientists
in the north were trained in the former Soviet Union
and Eastern Europe. In the south many senior faculty
have degrees from U.S. Institutions. A growing number
of young scientists in the institutes have been
trained in Japan, Australia and Western. In the South,
at Can Tho University in particular, several faculty
members have received PhD degrees from U.S. land grant
schools. Nearly every institution highlighted student
and scientist training as a higher priority than more
new equipment.

22. Technology transfer is an important mission of the
MARD institutes and the universities; however, little
attention appears to have been devoted to the
education or outreach needs specific to transgenic
crop varieties. For example, reports of Bt cotton use
report that farmers like the varieties and are likely
to want to grow Bt varieties on as many acres as
possible with little understanding of the need for
resistance management schemes. Identity preservation
technology necessary for maintaining GMO and GMO-free
commodities is at a very low state of development.
Public education programs have yet to be designed, but
there is an understanding that these are necessary for
acceptance of this technology.


23. In general universities are under the management
of the Ministry of Training and Education (MOET)
appear to have limited interaction with MARD
institutes. However, universities are following the
direction of the overall government in the development
of programs in biotechnology. Most of the universities
have recently developed a new "biotechnology" program
and are beginning to admit students. What exactly the
course of study will be and what industries will
employ the graduates is not clear at this point.
However, there are more students applying for
admission to these programs than can be accommodated -
a problem of university programs overall.

24. The universities in Can Tho and An Giang as well
as Cuu Long Rice Research Institute appear to break
the mold in terms of collaboration. They have close
contact with the University of Agriculture and
Forestry in HCMC and exchange research ideas, faculty
and students among the institutions. For instance, An
Giang University is planning to appoint one of Cuu
Long's scientists as the head of its new Department of
Biotechnology. The provincial governments also heavily
support these institutions. As a result the provincial
authorities have a great deal of influence over the
research agendas of these institutions and provide
substantial direct funding. For Instance, An Giang
University is mainly a creation of the An Giang
People's Committee and has a very locally focused

25. All universities are eager to develop new
collaborative efforts with foreign institutions. In
general they are looking for opportunities for their
students to pursue masters and doctorate programs in
the US. They are also looking for U.S. researchers to
visit Vietnam as guest lecturers and visiting faculty.

26. COMMENT: Post strongly supports continued
collaboration between USDA and the Vietnamese research
facilities and universities as the biotech and
labeling regulations are developed.


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