British eye market after lifting of ban

THE British Chamber of Commerce will lead a high-powered trade delegation to Vietnam next month in an attempt to learn more about the country's extensive infrastructure needs and ways to participate in its development.

Brigadier Christopher Hammerbeck, executive director of the chamber in Hong Kong, said yesterday the 19-person delegation would arrive in Hanoi on March 14 and leave for Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam's commercial centre, on March 16.

The delegation will include Gammon Construction, Costain Civil Engineering, Scott Wilson Kirkpatrick and Partners, Standard Chartered Bank, Hongkong and Shanghai Bank, S.G. Warburg, Kleinwort Benson, Inchcape Pacific and Thorn Lighting.

''Given our expertise in civil engineering, banking and financial services, we feel we have a constructive role to play in the upgrading of Vietnam's infrastructure and the way the delegation is made up reflects that,'' Brigadier Hammerbeck said.

He said the delegation had adopted a ''layered'' approach, with the construction and engineering firms getting support from the financial community on questions relating to raising capital for infrastructure projects.

''The Vietnamese understand that before there can be any leap forward in a market economy, they must put their infrastructure in place,'' Brigadier Hammerbeck said.

The Vietnamese Government has estimated that the country will need about US$50 billion in infrastructure investment to double gross domestic product (GDP) by the year 2000.

After the damage caused by the war and neglect, Vietnam now needs roads, ports, power plants, schools and telecommunication facilities to support the Government's ambitious market-oriented reforms.

Brigadier Hammerbeck said the delegates would look to establish joint ventures and participate in consortiums involved in infrastructure projects.

''Our role is to look at projects we think need doing, talk to the Vietnamese about these areas and discuss plans for moving infrastructure along.'' He said a report would be prepared for the Hong Kong Government.

The delegation's schedule includes meetings with officials from the State Bank of Vietnam, the State Commission for Co-operation and Investment, the State Planning Committee and the Ministry of Transportation.

Brigadier Hammerbeck said the delegation also hoped to meet officials from the ministries responsible for Vietnam's banking and legal sectors.

This will be the second trade mission to Vietnam led by the chamber, after a visit in 1992.

Brigadier Hammerbeck said the trip's timing was ideal, given this month's decision by US President Bill Clinton to lift the economic embargo against Vietnam.