The trip aimed to intensify Viet Nam's strategic partnership and economic, trade and investment ties with the bloc, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

During his visit, Triet confirmed that the Vietnamese Government would provide the best possible advantages for firms to do business by reviewing and amending all administrative procedures for a more transparent investment environment.

In Finland, the two countries' leaders said they were determined to increase bilateral trade as well as Finnish investment in Viet Nam to US$1 billion in a few years.

A memorandum of understanding on a joint venture to boost sales of fine art handicraft items to Finland and other European markets was also signed during the visit.

"We want to continue to contribute to Viet Nam's effort to realise its goal of becoming an industrialised country by 2020", said Finnish Minister of Foreign Trade and Development Paavo Vayrynen.

Meanwhile, in Switzerland, Swiss President Doris Leuthard confirmed her country's ongoing support to Viet Nam and said they would strive for greater focus on developing an economic partnership, work together on hunger and poverty alleviation, co-operate on environmental issues and continue programmes to have more Vietnamese people study in Switzerland.

At a forum titled "Viet Nam: The Land of Golden Opportunities," several contracts were signed between Vietnamese and Swiss enterprises for two-way trade in handicrafts and fertilisers.

International financial services giant Credit Suisse Group, which pledged to fund more major projects in Viet Nam, also said it was willing to train financial management staff for Vietnamese State-owned corporations.

During his visit to Belarus, President Triet said Viet Nam hoped to deepen its foray into the European market through Belarus and was willing to facilitate Belarus's entry into the Southeast Asian bloc.

At a meeting of the Viet Nam-Belarus Business Forum, the president said the Vietnamese Government reiterated the nation's commitment to furthering administrative reforms and improving the nation's investment environment.

Belarus Deputy Prime Minister Andrei Kobyakov said two-way trade between the two countries was yet to match potential and stronger efforts are needed to bridge this gap.

Kobyakov said Belarus would increase exports of key products such as steel, pharmaceuticals and high-tech equipment, and boost co-operation in new areas such as mineral exploration and exploitation. Belarus also welcomed more garments, textiles and seafood products from Viet Nam.

The two countries' leaders agreed that bilateral co-operation should be widened to cover assembling joint-ventures and heavy industries as well as education and training, oil and gas, agriculture, banking, tourism, health care and labour.

A number of important agreements, including agriculture co-operation, information exchange in the supervision of banking activities between Viet Nam's Hoa Lac Hi-tech Park and Belarus's National High Technologies Park were signed during the Vietnamese President's visit.

Investors remain bullish on VN

Results of a survey done by Grant Thornton Viet Nam released last week showed 81 per cent of respondents retain a positive outlook for the Vietnamese economy for the next 12 months.

The twice-yearly survey titled "Private Equity in Viet Nam – Investment Sentiment and Outlook" canvassed during Q2 the opinions of over 200 businesses based in Viet Nam or those having a significant focus on the country.

"Investors into Viet Nam appear to be focusing on growth assets and investments for the longer term. Few investors are focussing on distressed assets, which are far more difficult to identify in Viet Nam, and are instead looking for undervalued assets with a strong future", said Trinh Kim Dung, corporate finance manager for the research firm.

These responses can be contrasted with the two previous surveys where only 59 and 36 per cent of respondents indicated a positive outlook on Viet Nam's economic prospects.

Furthermore, as many as 87 per cent of respondents indicated that Viet Nam was more attractive than other investment destinations for investment, an increase of 20 per cent over previous survey results.

Education and retail sectors were identified as two of the most promising sectors in the country, while respondents were most negative about the oil and gas prospects as well as exploitation of natural resources in general.

Ken Atkinson, managing partner of Grant Thornton Vietnam, said the retail sector's strong showing for the third survey in succession indicated greater creativity and aggression among foreign investors to enter the local market despite "the contentious Economic Needs Test (ENT) provisions."

The survey also revealed increased dissatisfaction regarding the availability of debt financing and the lack of corporate transparency.

Respondents cited corruption as a major investment obstacle.

Tax return service launched

The General Department of Taxation recently issued certificates to 558 tax agents allowing them to launch a new service. These agents will help clients, individual and corporate, file their tax returns, tax declarations, pay taxes and claim tax refunds.

A tax consultancy company must have at least two certified agents, register their business with the department and will be legally responsible for the content of the tax declaration it files on behalf of its customers.

Vo Thanh Hung, director of Tam Diem Tax Service and Consultancy Co, said his firm would be among the first to offer the tax return filing service.

Currently, tax consultancy firms offer the service to corporate customers, but do not act on their behalf.

Nguyen Thi Cuc, president of Viet Nam Tax Consultants' Association, said this outsourcing service would be of great utility for businesses and individuals.

Many businesspeople did not have a good understanding of tax regulations and procedures and they would be able to use the agents' expertise and focus better on their core business activities, she said.

— Acc.VNS ( by Thuy Anh)

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