The signing of the MoU between South Africa and Vietnam on cooperation in the area of biodiversity conservation and protection

The signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between South Africa and Vietnam on cooperation in the area of biodiversity conservation and protection.

 1. Purpose

To provide a briefing note on environmental engagements between South Africa and Vietnam in preparation for the bilateral meeting with Minister Dr Cao Duc Phat, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD), and the signing of the MoU on Biodiversity Conservation and Protection, in Hanoi, Vietnam, 9 – 12 December 2012.

2. Background and Discussion

2.1 Overview of Vietnam

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. With an estimated 91.5 million inhabitants as of 2012, it is the world's 13th-most-populous country, and the eighth-most-populous Asian country. The name Vietnam translates as "South Viet", and was officially adopted in 1945. The country is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, and Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea to the east.

The Vietnamese became independent from Imperial China in 938 AD, following the Battle of Bạch Đằng River. Successive Vietnamese royal dynasties flourished as the nation expanded geographically and politically into Southeast Asia, until the Indochina Peninsula was colonized by the French in the mid-19th century. The First Indochina War eventually led to the expulsion of the French in 1954, leaving Vietnam divided politically into two states, North and South Vietnam. Conflict between the two sides intensified, with heavy foreign intervention, during the Vietnam War, which ended with a North Vietnamese victory in 1975.

After the war, Vietnam was unified under a Communist government, but was politically isolated and faced economic challenges. In 1986, the government initiated a series of economic and political reforms, which began Vietnam's path towards integration into the world economy. By 2000, it had established diplomatic relations with most nations. Its economic growth has been among the highest in the world since 2000, and according to Citigroup, such high growth is set to continue.

Vietnam has the highest Global Growth Generators Index among 11 major economies, and its successful economic reforms resulted in it joining the World Trade Organization in 2007. However, the country still suffers from relatively high levels of income inequality, disparities in healthcare provision, and poor gender equality.

The Socialist Republic of Vietnam is a single-party state. Its current state constitution, which replaced the 1975 constitution in April 1992, asserts the central role of the Communist Party of Vietnam in all organs of government, politics and society. The General Secretary of the Communist Party performs numerous key administrative and executive functions, controlling the party's national organization and state appointments, as well as setting policy. Only political organizations affiliated with or endorsed by the Communist Party are permitted to contest elections in Vietnam.

The President of Vietnam is the head of state and the nominal commander-in-chief of the military, serving as the Chairman of the Council of Supreme Defense and Security. The Prime Minister of Vietnam is the head of government, presiding over a council of ministers composed of three deputy prime ministers and the heads of 26 ministries and commissions.

The National Assembly of Vietnam is the unicameral legislature of the state, composed of 498 members. Headed by a Chairman, it is superior to both the executive and judicial branches, with all government ministers being appointed from members of the National Assembly. The Supreme People's Court of Vietnam, headed by a Chief Justice, is the country's highest court of appeal, though it is also answerable to the National Assembly. Beneath the Supreme People's Court stand the provincial municipal courts and numerous local courts. Military courts possess special jurisdiction in matters of national security.

Throughout its history, Vietnam's key foreign relationship has been with its largest neighbour, the People’s Republic of China. Currently, the formal mission statement of Vietnamese foreign policy is to: "Implement consistently the foreign policy line of independence, self-reliance, peace, cooperation and development; the foreign policy of openness and diversification and multi-lateralization of international relations. Proactively and actively engage in international economic integration while expanding international cooperation in other fields.

By December 2007, Vietnam had established diplomatic relations with 172 countries, including the United States, which normalized relations in 1995. Vietnam holds membership of 63 international organizations, including the United Nations, Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), Francophonie and World Trade Organization (WTO). It is furthermore a member of around 650 non-government organizations.

2.3 Diplomatic and Trade Relations between South Africa and Vietnam

Formal relations with the Socialist Republic of Vietnam were initiated in 2010 which manifested in the deepening of relations between South Africa and Vietnam. In October 2011, Deputy President K Motlanthe, supported by the Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, Mrs R Mabudafhasi, had the honour to pay an official visit to Vietnam and discussed various issues of mutual interest with Her Excellency Vice-President Nguyen Thi Doan. Both Parties committed both governments to strengthen co-operation on trade and investment, science and technology, defense and environmental management. Furthermore, they committed to actively encourage both South Africa and Vietnamese companies to take full advantage of excellent historical political relations between the countries to increase economic activity.

Both South Africa and Vietnam offer excellent opportunities to investors and they should encourage the business communities to link up and explore all possible avenues for cooperation and trade. Both countries have reiterated commitment to grow trade volumes between South Africa and Vietnam and in this regard, the governments have undertaken to work together to identify specific areas in which South African and Vietnamese companies can do business, which forms the basis of the South African-Vietnam Partnership Forum.

Both Parties have also agreed to continue sharing perspectives on multilateral matters such as fair global trade system, the reform of global financial institutions, development, peace and stability as well as on climate change.

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3. Environmental Management in Vietnam

3.1 Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development

The Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (MARD) is mandated to perform state management functions in the fields of agriculture, forestry, salt production, fishery, irrigation/water services and rural development nationwide. The MARD has been under development since 1987 by the combination of different government ministries: Ministry of Agriculture; Ministry of Food, combined to the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Industry in 1987; the subsequent addition of the Ministry of Forestry and the Ministry of Irrigation to form today's Ministry; as well as the addition of the Ministry of Fisheries in 2007. The Ministry was officially formed in 1995. MARD is headed by Minister Dr Cao Duc Phat and assisted by Vice Ministers, Diep Kinh Tan, Bui Ba Bong, Hua Duc Nhi, Nguyen Ngoc Thuat and Ho Xuan Hung.

The overall and long-term objective of the agricultural and rural sector for 2010 and beyond in Vietnam is to build up agriculture and forestry production that has a large scale of production, is modern, efficient and sustainable, and that has high productivity, high quality and is competitive, based on the application of advanced science and technology achievements so that they are able to meet the domestic and export demand.

The MARD is also responsible for protecting the agricultural and rural environment: including guiding and inspecting legal issues on environment protection and other decisions on production, exports, chemicals use, and plant protection. This responsibility includes the control of cross-border trafficking of seriously endangered wild animal and plants and hence is the Ministry overseeing CITES management issues. 

3.1 Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment

Following an overview of the environment in Vietnam, the 6 key environmental issues modeled by United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) environment assessment were used namely: land degradation, forest depletion, biodiversity degradation, water pollution, air pollution and solid waste management.

Environment protection and sustainable development are strategic components of utmost importance for socio-economic policy-making at the national, local and sectoral levels in Vietnam.

Elevated to the ministry level in 2002, Vietnam’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment (MONRE) is responsible for air, land, and water resource management under the Amended Law on Environmental Protection (2006). As the lead institution for environmental management throughout Vietnam, MONRE is also responsible for long term national environmental planning and for coordinating environmental impact assessments, compliance monitoring, inspections, and enforcement across jurisdictions through the Vietnam Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of the Inspectorate.

MONRE supports innovation and development in pollution control and conservation through its administration of the Vietnam Environmental Protection Fund (VEPF). Individual and organizational proponents of conservation and pollution control investment projects are eligible for financial support from the fund. Through VEPF, MONRE targets improvement of waste treatment, pollution prevention and mitigation, research and technology development, biodiversity conservation and public education.

At the provincial level, the Departments of Science, Technology, and the Environment bear responsibility. Non-governmental organizations, particularly the Institute of Ecological Economics, also play a role. Urbanization, planning, industrialization, and intensive farming are having a negative impact on Vietnam’s environment. These factors have led to air pollution, water pollution, and noise pollution, particularly in urban and industrial centers like Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi. The most serious problem is waste treatment. Land use pressures have led to significant environmental problems, including severe deforestation, soil erosion, and sedimentation of rivers, flooding in the deltas, declining fish yields, and pollution of the coastal and marine environment. The use of Agent Orange by the U.S. military in the Second Indochina War, or Vietnam War, (1954 – 75) has had a lingering effect on Vietnam in the form of persistent environmental contamination that has increased the incidence of various diseases and birth defects.

The National Environmental Agency has a programme in Partnership in Environmental Management for the Seas in East Asia (PEMSEA’s) which has a geographic coverage that includes the 6 sub-regional seas of the East Asian region, including the Yellow Sea, East China Sea, South China Sea, Sulu-Sulawesi and Indonesian Sea, as well as the Gulf of Thailand. They are semi-enclosed with a total sea area of 7 million km2, a coastline of 234,000 km and a total watershed area of about 8.6 million km2.

These seas are ecologically and economically important both regionally and globally and are reported to sustain 30 percent of the world's coral reefs and mangroves; produce about 40 percent of the world's fish catch and 84 percent of world aquaculture; and represent one of the world's centers for tropical marine biodiversity. However, the Seas of East Asia are under serious threat from human activities. Integrated coastal management (ICM) has proven to be an effective tool for national and local governments, providing a comprehensive and holistic approach to solving the many conflicting uses of coastal and marine resources. ICM is a process that encourages all stakeholders to plan, develop and implement a management program designed to achieve the sustainable development of coastal and marine resources, as well as adjacent watersheds.

4. Environmental Cooperation between South Africa and Vietnam

In October 2008, Deputy Minister Mabudafhasi undertook a working visit to Vietnam to discuss tourism and environmental issues and met with her counterpart Mr Tran Hong Ha Deputy Minister of Natural Resources and Environment in Hanoi, Vietnam on 7 October 2008. The two Ministers agreed that the following issues are of strategic importance to both countries:

  • Environmental policy-making and legislation in the context of effective enforcement and national Plans for Environmental Protection in the two countries;
  • Protection of biological resources and forest ecosystems through the Convention on Biological Diversity and implementation of GEF-funded projects;
  • Management of land resources in the context of rational use of land resources and restricting the loss of productive agricultural land;
  • to elaborate appropriate standards for combating water pollution, controlling the use of agro-chemicals and water quality standards for different purposes;
  • with respect to managing over fishing and the use of destructive fishing and the United Nations Convention or the Law of the Sea
  • Reducing industrial and urban pollution control and overcoming the challenge of balancing industrial development and environmental protection in line with sustainable development strategies;
  • Environmental education and public awareness through promoting participation in environmental protection by civil society and NGOs, community-based campaigns for environmental activities and regular involvement for the local communities in environmental protection;
  • International cooperation on environmental protection through the protection of the regional and global environment by ratifying and signing international agreements related to the environment, namely the Ramsar, CITES, Basel and Vienna conventions and those on biological diversity and climate change as well as bilateral co-operation with strategic countries
  • Sustainable Development in respect of the Rio- principles and Agenda 21.

During October 2011, the Department of Environmental Affairs, Branch: Oceans and Coasts, hosted the Vietnamese delegation on a study tour. No further relationship came up from this visit.

During the Deputy President’s visit to Viet Nam in October 2011, Ms Rejoice Mabudafhasi, Deputy Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs held a bilateral discussion with her counterpart. During their discussion, they focused on issues related to conservation and wildlife protection. The Deputy Minister confirmed that a multi-disciplinary team will visit Vietnam specifically on the issue of poaching in due course. The Vice Minister of Vietnam expressed an interest to work on issues relating to aqua culture and marine management.

4.1 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Cooperation in the Field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection

The development of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Government of the Republic of South Africa and the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam on Cooperation in the Field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection, is the result of a bi-lateral meeting where amongst other issues discussed, was the issue of wildlife protection and in particular issues pertaining to hunting and illegal killing of rhinoceros as well as the subsequent illegal trade in rhino horn.

South Africa and Vietnam are exploring ways to work more closely on environmental issues, particularly in respect of sharing information, best practices in the field of the environment. The signing of the MoU on cooperation in the field of Biodiversity Conservation and Protection will enhance environmental cooperation between Vietnam and South Africa in the areas of cooperation identified as follows:

  • Biodiversity management, conservation and protection;
  • Compliance with CITES and other relevant internationally binding  Conventions;
  • Forestry and biodiversity law enforcement and compliance with domestic frameworks and applicable conventions;
  • Strengthen the cooperation on the above through exchange of information, best practice and research;
  • Technology use, transfer and development;
  • Natural resource management, wildlife trade, protected areas management, community development, sustainable livelihoods; and
  • Other areas related to the objective referred to in Article 1 as agreed upon by the Parties.

The objective of the MoU is to promote co-operation between the two countries in the field of biodiversity conservation and protection, law enforcement and compliance with CITES on the basis of equality and mutual benefit. The two countries have agreed that the MoU and the subsequent implementation plan allow co-operation in areas of biodiversity conservation, biodiversity law enforcement, wildlife trade, information and intelligence sharing and gathering, permit issuing processes and verification mechanisms, monitoring and reporting systems, technology development and sharing, capacity building and training, prosecution and law enforcement, awareness, knowledge and research, custom services and legal systems within which the two countries operate.

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