Cablegate: Vietnam: Waiting for a Biotech Policy

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

181036Z Oct 04




E.O. 12958: N/A

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: Vietnam may be close to adopting a policy that
would allow it to use biotechnology to increase agricultural
output and to improve the health of its citizens. Vietnam's
position at a biotech crossroads was highlighted during the recent
visit of plant biotechnology expert Dr. C.S. Prakash of Tuskegee
University. Local biotech experts noted during Dr. Prakash's
visit that it could be only a matter of months before the GVN
releases a long-awaited policy announcement on agricultural
biotechnology. While Vietnam appears to be on the on the right
side of the biotech debate, the GVN is still grappling with making
the leap from the laboratory to the rice paddy. END SUMMARY.

2. (U) ConGen had the opportunity to sound out local experts on
the status of agricultural biotechnology in Vietnam during the
September 15-17 visit of Dr. C.S. Prakash, director of Tuskegee
University's Center for Plant Biotechnology Research. Dr. Prakash
made the case for the benefits of biotech in speeches and meetings
with students and experts in Ho Chi Minh City and the Mekong Delta
cities of Can Tho and An Giang. Prior to coming to southern
Vietnam, Dr. Prakash participated in a similar program in Hanoi.
He argued that biotechnology is a safe way to increase
agricultural productivity and improve the health of consumers in
developing countries around the world and Vietnam in particular.

3. (SBU) According to local experts, the GVN has officially
identified the development of biotechnology (BT) as a national
priority. Professor Nguyen Van Uyen, former Director of the
Institute of Tropical Biology and one of Vietnam's leading
advocates of biotechnology, observed that the GVN could release
its biotech policy in a matter of months. Sixteen universities
and institutes in Vietnam are engaged in biotech research.
According to Professor Uyen and his colleagues, Vietnamese
authorities understand the value and potential benefits of
biotechnology for economic development, but they are still
grappling with the problem of how to put biotech to work for them.
Various Vietnamese government agencies, in conjunction with
academia, have been working for more than five years on drafting
official policy.

4. (SBU) Pending release of Vietnam's biosafety regime,
institutions like Cuu Long Rice Research Institute (CLRRI) in the
Mekong Delta are sitting on biotech research that could have rapid
benefits for farmers and consumers alike. For example, CLRRI has
had great success adapting golden rice technology (rice
genetically fortified with vitamin A and iron) in the laboratory,
but cannot transmit the technology to the farmer. Five million
Vietnamese suffer from anemia and could benefit enormously from
golden rice, according to Dr. Prakash's counterparts. These
contacts explained that the delay in implementing a biosafety
regime is the result of concerns in Hanoi over possible
repercussions for Vietnamese exports, especially to Europe. They
agreed, however, that little Vietnamese rice was sent to the EU.

5. (SBU) Following implementation of a legal framework,
dissemination of biotechnology may be rapid. In the Mekong Delta,
Can Tho University, CLRRI and An Giang University appear to have
an effective collaboration with each other and with international
counterparts, including the International Rice Research Institute
(IRRI) in the Philippines. For example, researchers share new
strains of rice with each other for testing purposes. CLRRI has
already had success in transferring new conventional rice
varieties to local farmers; 56 percent of Mekong Delta farmers use
CLRRI rice varieties. The GVN also has agricultural extension
officers in place down to the local level. While open to new
varieties, most farmers still cultivate their own seeds to grow
crops each season; the concept of buying seed for new crops is
still novel and regarded with some suspicion. Local academics
noted during Dr. Prakash's visit that it is important that good
quality seed be available to farmers when they use biotech rice
varieties for the first time. Poor quality seed could convince
farmers that biotech varieties are not worth the expense of buying
seed every season.

6. (SBU) COMMENT: Dr. Prakash's visit highlighted that Vietnam is
moving forward on agricultural biotechnology, and has substantial
scientific and technical capacity in this area. These scientists
are eagerly awaiting biosafety legislation to begin disseminating
technology. While Dr. Uyen expects new regulations within months,
others say it could be years before the policy takes effect. Dr.
Prakash's meetings, speeches, and press coverage were effective in
highlighting this pressing issue. END COMMENT.


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