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Cablegate: Sowing the Seeds of a Biotech Discussion in Vietnam

VZCZCXRO9724
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #1260/01 3180904
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 130904Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 8722
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 5288
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE WASHINGTON DC
RUEHRC/DEPT OF AGRICULTURE USD FAS WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 001260

SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS FOR MBROWN AND EEB/TPP/ABT
HHS/OSSI/DSI PASS OT OGHA (WSTIEGER/LVALDEZ/CHICKEY) AND FDA
(MPLAISIER/RCAMPBELL/BCOREY)
USTR FOR BISBEE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: TBIO EAGR ETRD EAID ECON VM
SUBJECT: SOWING THE SEEDS OF A BIOTECH DISCUSSION IN VIETNAM

REF: A) 07 State 160639 (Biotech Outreach);
B) Hanoi 103 (Biotech Outreach Proposal)

HANOI 00001260 001.2 OF 002


1. (U) SUMMARY: Mission Vietnam sponsored a series of biotechnology
conferences that generated frank discussions among Vietnamese
farmers, policymakers and academics about basic research and field
testing, and led to calls from conference participants for the
Government of Vietnam (GVN) to develop this sector as quickly as
possible. The "Vietnam Biotech: Growing the Future" conferences,
co-organized with the GVN, from September 29 through October 4,
2008, focused on how biotechnology can improve economic growth and
provide benefits for farmers and consumers. Over 450 people
attended the events held in urban and rural venues in northern and
southern Vietnam, which received wide media coverage. END SUMMARY

TURNING POINT FOR VIETNAM BIOTECH
---------------------------------

2. (U) The objective of the conferences, held in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh
City, Can Tho, and Vinh Phuc, was to raise awareness about the
benefits of biotechnology for Vietnam and to encourage active
development of the sector. As a leading agricultural producer and
exporter, Vietnam has the potential to be among the leaders in
biotechnology in such crops as soybean, corn and rice. To date
there have been few opportunities for public debate of biotech
issues. This a pivotal time for outreach as the GVN is in the
process of finalizing key biotech regulations.

3. (U) The legal framework for biotechnology in Vietnam is still
evolving and the implementing guidelines for practical applications
remain unclear. While biotech research is underway in Vietnam, it
does not have large-scale financial support. In the coming months
the GVN will make critical decisions which will have a long-term
impact on production and trade of biotech crops and products. The
Mission-sponsored "Vietnam Biotech: Growing the Future" provided a
much-needed public forum for many of these issues.

THE OUTCOME
-----------

4. (U) The four events drew over 450 participants. Scientists had
the opportunity to publicly present their work and policymakers were
able to directly address key biotech issues. Vietnamese biotech
advocates were able to answer questions from the public and the
media about the safety and value of biotechnology, as well as to
propose ways to encourage and implement biotechnology. During the
last conference, provincial agricultural authorities from Vinh Phuc
officially volunteered to serve as the first site in Vietnam for
biotech maize field trials.

MEDIA CAMPAIGN
--------------

5. (U) Media, participant, and public interest were high and
enthusiastic. Three events attracted over 100 participants each,
and 53 local agricultural officials joined discussions in Vinh Phuc.
Over 30 media representatives attended the four conferences,
providing print, internet, and Vietnam TV coverage. Print
journalists, reporters for websites and television stations covered
the panel presentations and interviewed the speakers. Television
interviews with the program speakers were aired for several days
after the events.

6. (U) Media exposure and word-of-mouth generated so much
additional interest in the conferences that post had to enlarge the
capacity for each subsequent event. For example, after the first
event in HCMC, agriculture students asked to participate, which
doubled our expected audience in the second conference in Can Tho.
Similarly, after the Hanoi conference, our local government hosts in
Vinh Phuc Province doubled the number of participants.

7. (U) As part of the conference activities, Mission Vietnam is
organizing a supplementary media campaign, which includes the
publication of articles in local newspapers and the production of
DVDs of the conference panels. Embassy Hanoi also translated and
distributed Vietnamese copies of three Biotech related publications.
Follow-up media campaign activities include newspaper articles by
Vietnamese biotech experts and more television coverage. In
addition, Mission Vietnam posted coverage on the Embassy website and
is exploring other web-based avenues for dissemination.

ENLISTING THE GOVERNMENT
------------------------

8. (U) Working closely with GVN counterparts on the planning and

HANOI 00001260 002.2 OF 002


implementation of all project activities promoted cooperation and
insured that the Biotech Outreach activities had full support from
the GVN. For example, preparation and distribution of information
packets insured that every participant had full access to the
program content and ideas. Those participant packets can also be
shared with the institutions and universities of the attendees and
highlight the contributions of local scientists and policymakers to
the promotion of biotech in Vietnam.

CREATING EFFECTIVE CONFERENCES
------------------------------

9. (U) Mission Vietnam received special funding for conferences from
EEB as part of the 2008 Biotech Outreach Strategy. Each conference
featured Dr. Paul Teng, an internationally-renowned biotechnology
development expert and Dean of Graduate Programs and Research at the
Nanyang Technological University in Singapore. He is also the
Vice-Chairman of the Board of International Service for the
Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA) and a member of the
International Steering Committee, Public Research & Regulatory
Initiative, established to provide a public sector research role in
the Cartagena Biosafety Protocol. Mission Vietnam Econ staff
organized all project activities and traveled to all program
locations for implementation. Econ officers worked closely with the
Mission's FAS, ESTH and PAS sections to maximize the impact of the
outreach activities.

10. (U) Organizing the biotech outreach activities as a weeklong
conference series rather than separate one-off events enhanced media
coverage, heightened the profile of the activities and increased
audience participation. Each event was designed for a particular
audience, including scientists, academics, policymakers and farmers.


11. (U) COMMENT: "Vietnam Biotech: Growing the Future" reached a
large and diverse audience at a critical time in Vietnam's
consideration biotechnology and biotech crops. GVN officials
praised the conferences for providing a public forum for Vietnamese
researchers and biotech advocates that had not existed previously.
Post will continue to support Vietnamese biotech advocates through
information sharing, facilitating discussions, and monitoring
legislative and regulatory developments. END COMMENT

12. (U) This cable was coordinated with Congen HCMC.

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