Finding a common voice in squabble over alcohol

20:39 | 24/12/2018
Even after changes, the Ministry of Health’s draft law on the prevention and control of alcohol-related harms still draws varied responses from stakeholders. Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Association, discussed with VIR’s Bich Thuy the methods which could harmonise the benefits of all parties involved.
finding a common voice in squabble over alcohol
Nguyen Van Viet, chairman of the Vietnam Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Association

While companies raised ­objections against the draft law because it might harm their business, many international health organisations supported it as the strongest legal tool for the country to fulfil its sustainable development ­commitments. Where does the Vietnam Beer-Alcohol-Beverage Association (VBA) stand?

We welcome the recommendations from the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health’s (MoH) aim to protect people’s health via the draft law. However, some of the arguments by representatives of WHO Vietnam and other international organisations are not persuasive. Statistics from international organisations used as reference are being used as official figures in the draft law. The statistics should instead be based on the Vietnamese government’s General Statistics Office and the Vietnamese Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The VBA and our members completely agree with reasonable regulations. However, there are some regulations that could negatively impact not only the beverage industry but also tourism and other sectors, while possibly causing losses to the state budget.

First, we do not agree with the name of the draft law because it could cause negative impacts on business activities. Our preferred wording is either the “Law on Control of Alcohol” or the “Law on Prevention and Control of Harms of Alcohol Abuse.”

No other country in the world has a law to prevent and fight against wine, spirits and beer in this way. A few countries have similar laws, but with different names based on simple wording, such as the law on control of alcohol.

What is more, wine, beer and spirits are part of each country’s culture. It is an important part of traditional and political parties. We believe the draft law seems to go against tradition.

We also have issues regarding regulations on the time, location, and ways to sell beer, wine, and spirits as well as advertising. For example, the draft law proposes a ban on selling beers, wines, and spirits from 10 PM to 6 AM. This will not help the country reduce consumption, but may cause negative impacts on the development of the beverage and tourism industries.

Beer, wine, and spirits are not a conditional business. Thus, the ban on selling the products on the Internet is not in line with investment laws and goes against trade trends within Industry 4.0. This can prevent buyers from buying genuine products, while leading to a rise in smuggling and difficulties in tax collection.

finding a common voice in squabble over alcohol
The Vietnamese beer market posts stellar growth, with high consumption volumes, Photo: Le Toan

Domestic and international experts have said that the harmful use of alcohol not only damages people’s health, but also greatly diminishes the ­economic, social, and ­development prospects of Vietnam. Should businesses not be willing to give up a small part of their ambitions for the sake of the community?

First, we should reaffirm the necessity of building the draft law, as the country right now already has too many legal documents covering production, sales, and consumption of beer, wine, and spirits.

Businesses do not need to give up their benefits if we have a law harmonising the benefits of the business community, the government, and our citizens by having reasonable regulations on

management, production, business, food safety, and the responsible use of these products. Many developed countries such as Russia, South Korea, Germany, and Japan, where far more alcohol is consumed than in Vietnam, have strong economies and also a stable and healthy society, despite this consumption.

At present, beer, wine, and spirits are subject to many kinds of taxes in this country, including a special consumption tax of 65 per cent, 10 per cent value added tax, corporate income tax, environment tax, and more.

Despite recent changes, the draft law still fails to satisfy all the stakeholders. What are your suggestions to help the draft ­harmonise the benefits for all, as you stated?

We do hope that the draft law would have feasible regulations to facilitate our member companies’ activities, while protecting people’s health and ensuring the benefits of the government. The fact is that this is a very difficult task as the MoH has designs on health protection, while other stakeholders and VBA members have economic preferences.

To control the consumption of these types of alcohol, we have many measures available. One example is the requirement of a credit card, or identification card. In this way, only people aged 18 and older can own this type of card and therefore have access to the products.

The draft law should tighten control over the thorny issue of homemade wine and low-quality wine products which seriously harms people’s health, so as to achieve the target of eradicating unlicensed home-made wine production by early 2023.

Recent cases of wine poisoning have all been caused by low-quality methanol containing wine. According to the MoH, only 15 per cent of homemade breweries, and nearly 50 per cent of the volume of homemade wine sold are licensed.

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