Development of agriculture, international integration and environmental issues
Since the Renewal Process from 1986, Việt Nam has actively integrated into the world economy. The country has signed bilateral trade agreements, including with the US, the Strategic Partnership with Russia, and the Economic Partnership Agreement with Japan. Lately, Việt Nam has signed 12 free trade agreements and has become the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO). Việt Nam has so far maintained economic and trade relations with more than 230 countries and territories.
Along with integration, agricultural exports have seen strong growth, making an important contribution to maintaining the GDP growth rate of the agricultural industry (agriculture, forestry and fisheries) with an average increase of 3.7% per year in the period 1986-2013.
The export value of the agricultural industry saw an average increase of 13.5% per year between 1995-2013, from US$2.5 billion to US$24.5 billion. Agriculture is the only sector to consistently maintain its export surpluses. Currently, Việt Nam is one of the world’s leading exporters of many farm products, including rice, seafood, coffee, pepper and cashew.
However, the Vietnamese model of agricultural development mostly focuses on intensive farming - improving productivity and volume by extreme exploitation of natural resources - that has gradually exposed its shortcomings. Most of the country’s natural resources have been extremely exploited in recent years.
According to the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, currently there are about 2 million hectares of seriously degraded land and 9.3 million hectares of land (about 20% of the total land area) where around 22 million farmers are faced with degradation.
Agriculture accounts for 80% of the fresh water (surface water and groundwater) use for irrigation. Along with rapid development, the volume of fresh water used annually in Việt Nam has increased significantly (from 12.6% in 1997 to 22.8% in 2011 of total reserves).
Therefore, ensuring water security is one of the major challenges for agricultural development amid climate change and upstream interventions on the Mekong River. Deforestation, the overexploitation of onshore and inshore ﬁshing resources along with plantations of some major crops have caused negative consequences for biodiversity and ecosystems.
The overuse of pesticides and chemical fertilizers has reached an alarming level - much higher than the world average. This has resulted in serious pollution of air and water resources in the agricultural sector, affecting people’s health and food quality. Agriculture in general and rice production in particular has been a major source of emissions, contributing to the greenhouse effect. According to the latest Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) statistics, in the 50 years from 1961 to 2011, farming in Việt Nam generated higher greenhouse gas emissions per hectare than any other country.
TPP commitments related to the environment and the use of natural resources in agriculture
From 2010 until now, the country’s international economic integration reached a new height with the signing of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in October, 2015. In comparision with previous free trade agreements, which mostly focused on tariffs, the TPP aims to establish trade rules covering almost all aspects of international trade.
It can be said, the TPP brings major benefits to Việt Nam in improving the environment and sustainable utilisation of natural resources. The requirements of food safety and sanitary and phytosanitary (SPS) levels means its technical barriers to trade (TBT) are stricter than WTO rules.
The key importers of Việt Namese farm products, such as the US and Japan, require strict SPS and TBT. The requirements of enviromental satisfaction – including origins, conservation of biodiversity, conservation of genetic resources, technical barriers, sanitary and phytosanitary levels – are an opportunity to produce quality products and ensure environmental sustainability. In the domestic market, the Việt Namese government has gradually synchronized SPS and TBT standards in line with international commitments so as to protect Việt Namese businesses and manufacturers from high competition of imported products from countries with high levels of agriculture efficiency. The TPP provisions on transparency and risk analysis mechanisms based on scientific evidence are very tight. To survive, Việt Nam producers and manufacturers have to improve their quality and food safety.
Standards of product origin also contribute to the development of sustainable agriculture. For example, regulations on the sources of timber for export products in the forestry industry ensure transparency and legality of origin. If Việt Nam fails to meet regulations, it can not export products to TPP countries. This will help prevent deforestation and illegal logging.
In the environment chapter of the TPP, member countries pledge to ensure fairness for all stakeholders. The TPP emphasizes the enforcement of three international treaties on environment: the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer; International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships; the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Under this chapter, TPP countries are asked to eliminate harmful fisheries subsidies that cause negative impacts on marine resources, such as overfishing. The high requirement and obligatory commitment of this Chapter will become a basis for Việt Nam to continue to study, propose and improve its policies and laws related to the environment, thus contributing to joint efforts in environmental protection activities and sustainable development. Besides, Việt Nam is likely to receive support from TPP member countries in promoting the application of science and technology and enhancing production methods as well as promoting environmental protection and social justice.
Proposed solutions on policy
The TPP will help Việt Nam to improve environmental issues and the use of natural resource in agriculture with more strict regulations on SPS, TBT, origins and environmental commitments. However, realizing these benefits is still a big challenge for Việt Namese agriculture which is now based on a small and scattered production scale and overexploitation of natural resources.
The following suggestions aim to promote the TPP commitments related to the environment and sustainable utilization of natural resources.
To disseminate information and knowledge about the commitments of SPS, TBT, origins and environmental commitments for State bodies at local levels, throughout the business community and among farmers. This is a key factor in the process of agricultural development in Việt Nam. An understanding of the commitments will help interested parties deal with challenges and make the best of opportunities in the agricultural industry brought about by the TPP.
To gradually bring the SPS and TBT standards of Việt Nam into line with international regulations.
To review agricultural commodities for export that have serious impacts on the environment, natural resources and food hygiene.
To continue promoting the implementation of a scheme on agriculture restructuring by working towards added value and sustainable development in line with Decision No. 899/2013 / QD-TTg of the Prime Minister. This scheme will further contribute to improving the competitiveness of Việt Nam’s farm produces and ensuring the sustainability of the ecological environment.
Việt Nam must continue to fornulate policies and ways to integrate the TPP commitments on the environment and the use of natural resources.
Dr. Nguyễn Đỗ Anh Tuấn
Director - The Institute of Policy and Strategy for Agricultural and Rural Development (IPSARD)
Dr. Đặng Kim Khôi
Director - Policy Advisory Centre (CAP - IPSARD)
Master Kim Văn Chinh