Mekong Delta provinces seek to bolster key exports

The fourth COVID-19 outbreak has forced 13 southwestern provinces into strict social distancing for a prolonged period of time. Despite facing many difficulties, enterprises have managed to maintain production and exports, and many provinces have even recorded export growth compared to 2020.

Processing catfish for export at Tra Noc Industrial Park in Can Tho (Photo: Thanh Tam)
Processing catfish for export at Tra Noc Industrial Park in Can Tho (Photo: Thanh Tam)

According to the Ministry of Planning and Investment, total exports from the Mekong Delta region reached US$9.5 billion as of the end of August, up 8.8% over the same period last year. The region’s export strengths are mostly agricultural commodities such as rice, catfish and shrimps.

In mid-September, Camimex Foods, one of the six largest seafood producers in Ca Mau Province, saw more than 1,100 workers returning to normal work, 80% of its permanent workforce, helping raise its productivity from 30% to 60%.

Camimex Foods General Director Bui Duc Cuong said the company is prepared to cope with the epidemic for a long time so it has taken every measure to ensure safety and maintain production while not disrupting the supply chain. He added that it is also the foundation for the company to keep its export targets unchanged at US$120 million in 2021, up 20% from last year.

According to Ca Mau’s policies, locally enterprises do not have to follow the “three on-site” and “one route, two destinations” models once social distancing measures are relaxed. Enterprises are now to be given more autonomy in issuing travel permits for employees but must increase testing frequency and enhance other preventive measures.

Director of the Can Tho Department of Industry and Trade Nguyen Van Do said the seafood industry is still growing, reaching US$652 million, up 17.6% over the same period last year.

General Director Tran Van Tuan of Khanh Sung, a shrimp farming company in Soc Trang Province proposed the provincial authorities accelerate vaccination for workers in the shrimp production and processing industry as it is the locus of Soc Trang and the wider Mekong Delta region.

According to Soc Trang Party Secretary Lam Van Man, shrimp prices are rising as the epidemic is gradually being brought under control. The province currently has 20 seafood exporters, the largest five specialising in shrimp, accounting for three quarters of seafood exports. Soc Trang is currently the national leader in seafood exports, with revenue of US$600 million, accounting for 12% of the country’s total.

Mekong Delta provinces seek to bolster key exports ảnh 1

Processing seafood at Minh Khue Seafood JSC in Kien Giang Province. (Photo: Viet Tien)

In the first eight months of 2021, Kien Giang’s exports were estimated at nearly US$510 million, up 8.62% over the same period last year, with the rises seen in key products such as rice, frozen shrimp, squid and octopus. Similarly An Giang also recorded export growth of over 2% to US$615.47 million.

Director of the An Giang Department of Industry and Trade Nguyen Minh Hung said that since the seafood processing industry is labour-intensive and involves closed working spaces, transmission risks are very high. Therefore such enterprises have been forced to reduce their capacity and let their workers sleep over at the factories. An Giang’s export goal for 2021 is US$965 million but the figure in the last eight months has reached only 63.8% of the target. The province is recalculating its growth scenarios.

According to the Can Tho Department of Planning and Investment, during the social distancing period, more than 95% of enterprises in the city had to suspend operations, with 70% of agricultural and seafood exports forced to close.

In the past two weeks, there has been encouraging signs as more than 100 enterprises and cooperatives in Can Tho registered to resume operation. The Mekong Delta province has formulated plans to restore its economy in three steps with the percentage of workers allowed rising from 30% in the first phase, to 30-50% in the second phase and over 50% in the final phase.

Maintaining production while ensuring distancing means significant costs for enterprises, exposing them to the risk of losses. Nguyen Van Hoa, Chairman of the Can Tho Business Association stated that banks should continue to restructure existing loans and grant new loans so that enterprises can have the resources to maintain production.

In addition, local authorities should prioritise vaccination for workers and implement new methods to replace the “three on-site” model so as to reduce the burden on enterprises.