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Foreign tourists drink beer at sidewalk tables on Bui Vien Street in Ho Chi Minh City.
Vietnamese brewers were invited by the ministry to the event to give feedback on the draft decree, which aims to ban beer sales on the sidewalk and to people under 18 years old, as well as pregnant and lactating women.
The ministry has also proposed forcing beer companies to place stamps on their products to fight counterfeits, warn drinkers of alcohol abuse, and prevent tax evasion.
The draft document was announced early this month and immediatelygreeted with objections from brewers, beer vendors, and drinkers, who say it lacks feasibility.
The ministry thus held the conference in Hanoi, asking brewing companies “to share solutions to improve the decree, instead of criticizing it.”
Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beer Alcohol Beverage Association, said it is impossible to tell whether a woman is pregnant or breastfeeding and refuse to sell beer to her.
“We should not put things we cannot control into a decree,” Viet said. “This should only be stated in educational or warning documents.”
Lu Bang, from the Department of Industry and Trade in the central coastal city of Da Nang, also believes that it is infeasible to ban beer sales to pregnant or lactating women.
Bang, however, showed support for the ban on sales to people under 18, saying this is “necessary for a civilized society.”
$75.31 million to stamp beer products
Meanwhile, Vu Xuan Dung, deputy general director of the Hanoi Beer, Alcohol, and Beverage JSC, blasted the regulation on stamping beer products as “too costly,” adding that no country forces producers to place warning labels on liquor products.
Vietnam produces some three billion liters of beer a year, meaning 10 billion units (cans or bottles) would need to be stamped, Dung said.
Given that a stamp costs VND160, the total expense for stamping every unit would be VND1.6 trillion (US$75.31 million) a year.
“If a regulation is costly and ineffective, we should consider whether or not applying it is a good idea,” he said.
Nguyen Tien Sy, deputy head of marketing of the Saigon Beer-Alcohol-Beverage JSC, calculated that stamping its products would cost the company VND800 billion ($37.65 million) a year.
“This will greatly affect our salary fund and social costs,” he said, adding that it could also “create a market for fake stamps.”
Trinh Thi Hang Nga, head of the legislation department under the Ministry of Transport, said she wonders how regulatory agencies would detect breaches of beer regulations and enact sanctions on the violators.
After hearing feedback from the delegates, Phan Chi Dung, head of the Light Industry Department, the main composer of the controversial draft decree, rejected the notion that banning sidewalk beer sales is impossible.
“Some localities, such as Da Nang, have successfully enacted the ban,” he said.
Dung added, however, that the regulation “will be reconsidered and may be omitted.”
As for the beer stamp regulation, the official said that citing large beer production is a weak argument, as cigarettes, whose annual production is around four billion packs, are currently stamped.
“We will report this to the government, and will enforce the regulation if it is green-lighted,” he said.