Pham Van Tan, a 31-year-old Vietnamese, was driving a truck loaded with about 20 tonnes of dragon fruit produced in Vietnam’s Da Nang. Once passing the customs checkpoints, the goods will soon be seen in the markets of cities such as Shanghai and Beijing.
Pham has been in the logistics business for over four years. His main duty is to transport goods including fruit, seafood and farm produce from Vietnam to Chinese border provinces such as Guangxi and Yunnan.
Among the bordering cities Pham has visited, Dongxing, which is separated from Vietnam’s northeastern economic hub Mong Cai by a narrow river, serves as a gateway to ASEAN countries.
“During the COVID-19 outbreak, many Vietnamese farmers and drivers became very anxious after customs clearance was suspended in both countries,” he said.
In February, the prices of Vietnamese products such as lobster, catfish and watermelon slumped, he added.
Vietnam stopped issuing visas for Chinese tourists in early February and partially closed the Sino-Vietnam border to prevent the spread of the virus.
“The epidemic has affected us seriously,” another Vietnamese driver said. “Vietnam has taken a lot of strict prevention and control measures. Many of our trucks lined up. The agricultural products planned to be exported to China became unsalable.”
During the outbreak, Guangxi local authorities held several rounds of negotiations with four neighboring provinces in northern Vietnam, enabling the application of more convenient clearance procedures in both countries, said Jiang Liansheng, director of the department of commerce in Guangxi.
To further facilitate Vietnamese products entering the Chinese market, Dongxing Customs continued to refurbish border-check infrastructure. A set of high-tech checking facilities have recently been put into use, reducing the screening time to 30 minutes per vehicle, said Lei Keqiang of Dongxing Customs.
“The newly built cross-border bridge, called Beilun II, resumed freight clearance service after the prolonged Chinese Spring Festival holiday,” said Chen Xiao, director of Dongxing Port Service Center.
By March 10, the daily average number of import and export vehicles has exceeded that of last year, said Chen.
At Pingxiang, China’s largest land border port for fruit import and export, all customs officials were seen wearing face masks and some Vietnamese truck drivers wore protective gear when crossing the border, just as in Dongxing.
“The situation is getting better and better now as customs clearance carries on as normal,” said Liu Lishu, manager of a local Chinese electronics company.
“More than 70 percent of our products are exported to ASEAN countries through Vietnam. Production had been reduced in the first two months due to the outbreak, but we are ramping up to get it back in March,” Liu said.
ASEAN has become China’s biggest trade partner in the first two months, with the combined trade volume rising 2 percent to 594.1 billion yuan (about 85.68 billion U.S. dollars), official data showed.
China has been Vietnam’s largest trading partner for many years while Vietnam is China’s largest trading partner in ASEAN. Two-way trade has exceeded 100 billion U.S. dollars for two consecutive years.
Tran Dai Nghia, chairman of Vietnam VCI Logistics Joint Stock Company, has been running a cross-border business for over 20 years. He said China is a central manufacturing hub and its market remains strong and is crucial for global economies including Vietnam.
Mutual cross-border trade has been developing stably, thus creating a concrete driving force for economic activities, including trade, services and investment, and improving the living standards of residents in both sides’ border areas, Tran noted.
“We are full of confidence in trade with Vietnam this year. Vietnam workers are still unable to come, but we are working on it,” said Liu.
The impact of the virus on us will be temporary and business will return on track soon, Tran added.
China’s rapid economic development since the country’s opening up and reform in the late 1970s has formed a complete supply chain, which is important for the whole world, said Sun Xiaoying, a senior research fellow with the Guangxi Academy of Social Science.
A large number of economies including Vietnam are suffering supply chain issues. As the outbreak in China has been effectively controlled and the resumption of work is proceeding smoothly, the recovery of the supply chain will accelerate, Sun added.
“Business with China is extremely important to thousands of Vietnamese drivers. I can earn nearly 900 U.S. dollars a month, which is well above the average in Vietnam,” Pham said. “I hope both Vietnam and China can overcome the epidemic as soon as possible.”