November 27, 2010 - Though there has been a sharp decline in the flow of contraband goods from Cambodia into the Mekong Delta, cigarette smuggling remains rampant. Customs officials in An Giang and Long An provinces said smuggling of beer, wine, sugar, petrol and electronic products was sharply down because the disparity in prices is small but cigarette smuggling has worsened.
Dong Thap Province on the border is considered the smuggling hub in the delta. Recently customs officials there discovered 12 cases of smuggled goods worth VND234 million ($11,700), made up mostly of about 5,000 packs of cigarettes.
Deputy head of the Customs Department Le Van Chien said smuggling was hard to prevent because cigarettes were easily divided into small portions for many people to carry over the border. Kien Giang, the province that has been the most successful in fighting smuggling in the region, reported that this year customs officers discovered 38 cases, mostly cigarettes. Every year hundreds of thousands of packs were destroyed, it said.
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The smuggling goes on with impunity because the penalties are not deterrent enough, with only small fines slapped on anyone caught smuggling.
Tran Minh Tien, deputy head of the Kien Giang Customs Department, said smugglers' tricks were becoming more and more sophisticated.
Tien said smuggled cigarette accounted for 80 percent of supply in the Mekong Delta and HCM City.
According to the Viet Nam Tobacco Association, smuggled cigarettes accounts for 20 percent of the amount consumed in Viet Nam. In some places it is much higher—70
percent in Can Tho, 46 percent in HCM City, and 41 percent in the southern provinces.
Cigarettes have been smuggled into the country since the 1980s, with volumes reaching 300 – 400 million packs a year initially. But the situation has worsened since. By 2007 it had risen to 630 million, and to 800 million last year. Officials seized and destroyed 7.3 million packs last year, or less than 1 per cent of the amount smuggled into the country, according to the association.
It is estimated that the country loses at least VND3 trillion (US$150 million) in taxes while the foreign currency drain is $200 million.
Recently the Government said it would take criminal action against anyone caught smuggling more than 1,500 packs. Those caught with less than 1,500 packs will be fined VND100 million ($5,100). —VNS
References: Smugglers find cigarettes too profitable to give up, Viet Nam News., 11/25.2010; Officials fail to stub cigarette smuggling, Viet Nam News, 9/10/2010.
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Viet Nam is a member of the Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance (Seatca).