Apr 26, 2009

Vietnam earns US$18.63 billion from exports in four months

VietNamNet Bridge - Hanoi,Vietnam
23:33' 25/04/2009 (GMT+7)

VietNamNet Bridge - Vietnam has earned US$18.63 billion from exports in the first four months of the year, down 0.1% against the same period last year, according to the General Statistics Office.

In April alone, the country’s export turnover has been reported at US$4.5 billion, down 15.28% compared to the previous month.

Those goods that have enjoyed export growth include cassava and cassava products, up 155.8%; rice, up 43.9%; tea, up 14.8%; pepper, up 1.9%; garments and textiles, up 1.8%.

Particularly, exports of precious metals and gemstones saw sudden high increase, up 40 times compared to the same period last year, earning US$2.54 billion.

Exports of other goods all declined, most notably rubber (down 45.5%), crude oil (down 44.7%) and electric wires and cable (down 43.3%).

In April, Vietnam’s import turnover was reported at US$5.2 billion, up 3% against the previous month. In January-April period, the country imported US$17.83 billion worth of goods, down 41% against the same period last year.

In the first four months of this year, Vietnam saw a trade surplus of US$800 million. However, export turnover (excluding precious metals and gemstones) is tending to decrease.


Country profile: Thailand

Facts and statistics on Thailand including history, population, politics, geography, economy, religion and climate
The Guardian, Saturday 25 April 2009 Article history

Map of Thailand. Source: Graphic

Potted history of the country: The basis of modern Thailand began in 1351 with the unified kingdom of Siam. It became the only south-east Asian nation not to be occupied by a European power. A 1932 bloodless revolution created a constitutional monarchy, and Siam became Thailand in 1939. Eighteen military coups since reflect political instability. The last in 2006 deposed the then prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

At a glance
Location: South-east Asia
Neighbours: Burma, Laos, Cambodia
Size: 198,117 square miles
Population: 63,038,247 (20th)
Density: 318.2 people per square mile
Capital city: Bangkok (population 6,320,174)
Head of state: King Bhumibol Adulyadej (King Rama IX)
Head of government: Prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva
Currency: Baht
Time zone: Thailand standard time (+7 hours)
International dialling code: +66
Website: thaigov.go.th
Data correct on Saturday 25 April 2009

Political pressure points: Society is highly divided between the Thaksin-supporting rural poor and a wealthy Bangkok elite. Thaksin's successors won power when the army stepped aside. But constitutional courts sacked two premiers before the army-backed prime minister Abhisit Vejjajiva engineered a ruling coalition headed by his minority Democrat party. Thaksin supporters remain furious.

Population mix: Thai including Lao 75%, Chinese 14%, other minorities including: Malay, Cambodian, hill peoples (Meo, Lahu, Yao, Lisu, Lawa, Lolo and Karen) 1%

Religious makeup: Buddhist 94%, Muslim 5%

Main languages: Thai (official) Chinese, Malay and indigenous languages

Living national icons: Seni Saowaphong (author), Chart Korbjitti (author), Apichatpong Weerasethakul (film director) Somjit Jongjohor (boxer)

Landscape and climate: Tropical Thailand is flanked by the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. There are four distinct regions: the central plain; the north-east plateau, which rises 300 metres above the central plain; the mountainous north; and the rainforested southern peninsula. Its major river systems drain either into the Mekong or the Chao Phraya near Bangkok.

Highest point: Doi Inthanon 2,565 metres

Area covered by water: 861 square miles

Healthcare and disease: The number of Thais living with HIV/Aids is around 550,000. The incidence lowers life expectancy to 73 years, and increases infant mortality. Malaria, dengue fever and Japanese encephalitis are prevalent, particularly in jungle areas bordering Burma and Laos.

Average life expectancy (m/f): 69/75

Average number of children per mother: 1.8

Maternal deaths per 100,000 live births: 110

Infant deaths per 1,000 births: 8

8HIV/Aids rate: 1.4%

Doctors per 1,000 head of population: 0.4

Adult literacy rate: 94.1% (m 95.9%/f 92.6%)

Economic outlook: Exports - accounting for 60% of GDP - have slumped dramatically. The electronics, electrical goods and automotive sectors have all suffered sharp drops. Last year's 4.5% GDP growth is projected to reverse to 1% this year.

Main industries: Services including tourism, manufacturing including computers, vehicles and parts, electronics, textiles, rubber.

Key crops/livestock: Rice, sugar cane, cassava (tapioca), oil palm fruit, maize, natural rubber, fruit, cattle, buffaloes, pigs, poultry.

Key exports: Machinery, manufactured goods, rice

GDP: £105,374m (33rd)

GDP per head: £1,661

Unemployment rate: 1.2%

Proportion of global carbon emissions: 0.84%

Most popular tourist attractions: Bangkok, Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Phi Phi. Chiang Mai for Thai cooking classes and hill trekking

Local recommendation: Tarutao is one of the most unspoiled national parks in Thailand.

National dish: Pad thai (stir-fried noodles with egg, vegetables, spices, chicken, shrimp, tofu)

Foreign tourist visitors per year: 13,821,802

Media freedom index (ranked out of 173): 124

Did you know ... Most Thais refer to the capital as Krung Thep, the shortened name of a title that actually consists of 32 words.

National anthem:
The Thai people are peace-loving
But they are no cowards at war
They shall allow no one to rob them of their independence
Nor shall they suffer tyranny

· Information correct on date of first publication, Saturday 25 April 2009.

Scientific Alliance newsletter 24th April 2009

Cambridge Network - Cambridge,UK

Making the most of agricultural technology

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, set up to use the couple's personal wealth for the benefit of the world's poor, takes a hard-headed, business-oriented approach to screening projects put forward for funding. Unlike the majority of development charities, the Gates Foundation is not afraid to include cutting edge technologies to address pressing problems. This is not to say that there is not a place for small-scale improvements to current farming practices. Better cultivation techniques and improved irrigation have a role to play, but so does a search for more radical solutions to malnourishment and the lack of food security.

This approach starts from the principle that healthy, well-fed people are able to move on from subsistence farming and lift themselves out of poverty. Regular crop surpluses and the scope to grow cash crops not only makes the lives of whole families better, but enable children to go to school, which greatly improves their prospects as adults.

With this as an overall objective, nothing is then ruled out. There is no philosophical reliance on indigenous knowledge and keeping small farmers on the land for generations to come. If a more radical solution has the potential to improve people's lives, then there is no reason not to explore it. The net result would not necessarily be good for everyone in the short term. There would be losers as well as winners as the pattern of farming changed and young people moved to the cities.

But these are the sort of social upheavals which European countries have gone through in the past. From the comfort of our lives in today's advanced societies, how many of us would really argue that populations would be better off working the land for the basic necessities of life? Then we have to consider why the development sector effectively wants to condemn the world's current population of poor farmers to a similar future.

This attitude is encapsulated in the report of the International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, published in 2008. Set up as an authoritative, multi-stakeholder study, it became dominated by the received wisdom of NGOs and development agencies, and effectively dismissed the tools available to developed country farmers as inappropriate to the needs of the developing world. No wonder that the representatives of the private sector agricultural supply industry withdrew from participation before the report was published.

But published it was, and the dismissal of agricultural biotechnology as a development tool is now regularly trotted out as the authoritative consensus view of 400 scientists and development experts. Not only is it difficult to see how this can be a balanced view if the owners of the technology have effectively been excluded, but it is also a pity that no-one seems to have asked poor farmers in Africa, Asia or Latin America whether they would like to see the best available technologies used to improve crops which will help them produce bigger and more valuable harvests.

Fortunately, the Gates Foundation is not so blinkered. It has, for example, very publicly funded a project whose aim is to breed a "super cassava" using genetic modification technology (Biocassava plus). Cassava is the fall-back staple food of many in sub-Saharan Africa, but has a low nutritional value and requires considerable preparation to make it safe to eat, as it contains significant levels of cyanide. The goal is to increase the protein, vitamin and mineral content, reduce or eliminate cyanide and increase disease resistance. Field trials of a variety with high levels of beta-carotene have been approved in Nigeria.

But genetic modification is only one of the tools used, where it is appropriate. More recently, the Foundation has made grants of $48 million to two bodies – the World Cocoa Foundation and the German development organisation GTZ – to improve the incomes of cocoa and cashew farmers in Africa. These are integrated, multi-faceted programmes which aim to improve farmer knowledge, crop yields and quality and access to market.

Will such initiatives work? Doubtless some will be more successful than others, but full marks are due to the Gates Foundation and their partners for making genuine efforts to improve the lot of the poor through its agriculture initiative and for being open-minded to the possibilities offered by modern technology.

A worthy winner, for the wrong reasons

The FT has recently announced the winner of its Climate Change Challenge, which "sought to find and publicise the most innovative and scalable solution to the effects of climate change." A solar-powered cardboard cooker called the Kyoto Box has won the $75,000 prize.

This is a simple, cheap and ingenious device which can be used to boil water by harnessing heat from the sun. This Sun's rays enter an inner box through an acrylic panel, and heat is trapped via a combination of insulation, black paint and foil, sufficient to boil 10 litres of water in two hours when placed on top of the panel. And all for a likely cost of $5. The judging panel included the Financial Times, Sir Richard Branson and Dr Rajendra Pachauri.

John Bohmer, the cooker's inventor, thinks that its use will reduce a family's carbon dioxide emissions by about two tonnes a year, by eliminating the use of firewood. The other suggested benefit is disease reduction because water can be boiled before drinking. Strangely, the report fails to mention the most significant benefit of all: a likely big improvement in health because of reduced use of indoor wood stoves. The smoke from these fires is a major cause of respiratory disease, particularly among women and children.

If the Kyoto Box could be used for the majority of cooking, respiratory disease would be reduced and the daily search for firewood could be eliminated. These are two big gains, and make the prize winner a worthy one. But to see it as making a significant contribution to reduction of carbon emissions is misleading. While the rural poor might use less firewood, their countries' governments will be investing in centralised power generation, the additional emissions from which will dwarf any savings.

An effective electricity grid – supplemented by local generation sources in many cases – is a prerequisite for a decent life for city dwellers and the development of viable industries. Whatever is done to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions associated with rural living, this will become increasingly irrelevant as the economy develops. Productive agriculture is only the first stage of development, and we should not be aiming to stop the process when subsistence farmers have enough to eat every year. Poor farmers already have a tiny carbon footprint compared to rich Europeans. But they also have much poorer health, and if the Kyoto Box can improve this, then it certainly deserves a prize.

The Scientific Alliance
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Tel: +44 1223 421242

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