Photo: Lee & Man
Environmental concerns behind consideration being given to ceasing project.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade (MoIT) is considering proposing the government cease the development of a pulp paper plant in the Mekong Delta’s Hau Giang province.
The Hong Kong-based Lee & Man Paper Group has approval from authorities to develop the $348 million plant but public concern has been raised over the environmental pollution it may produce.
In a recent proposal sent to the government, the Vietnam Association of Seafood Exporters and Producers (VASEP) wrote that the project is designed to discharge around 28,500 tons of arsenic, cyanide and other chemicals into the Hau River and the sea each year.
The large volume of toxins could disrupt the Hau River’s ecosystem by destroying seafood resources and seriously affect aquaculture in the Mekong Delta, according to VASEP.
“The Mekong Delta accounts for over 70 per cent of Vietnam’s fisheries and aquaculture production,” VASEP wrote. “With the region’s important role in national fishery planning, VASEP proposes the National Assembly and the government inspect wastewater treatment and supervise the waste discharge of the project.”
In 2007 the Hau Giang People's Committee licensed Lee & Man to develop the pulp plant, with an annual capacity of 330,000 tonnes, and a $280 million paper manufacturing plant with an annual capacity of 420,000 tonnes.
The company was also allowed to build a thermal power plant, an international seaport, and a wastewater treatment facility.
According to the MoIT, developing a pulp and paper manufacturing plant does not fall under the country’s paper industry development plan to 2020 for the Delta.
Hau Giang province had previously asked that local industrial investment be promoted to improve socioeconomic development and create jobs. When Lee & Man expressed an interest in developing the project, Hau Giang sought MoIT's approval.
MoIT agreed because the plant’s products included high-end paper packaging, in which existing supply only met 40 per cent of domestic demand.
The plant also planned to recycle used cartons as input materials instead of pulp made from wood. MoIT requested the investor comply with State regulations on importing used cartons.
The province then approved the pulp plant without notifying MoIT, which was against regulations.
When the projects were licensed MoIT asked the investor to submit environmental impact assessments. In 2008 Hau Giang approved the assessment for the paper factory.
Construction only began in December 2012, however, after being delayed numerous times and the investor had yet to renew its environmental impact assessment despite regulations clearly stating that investors must submit one every two years.
Environmental pollution has been a hot topic in the media following the incident involving the Formosa Steel Plant that caused 70 tons of dead fish to wash ashore in the four central coastal provinces of Ha Tinh, Quang Binh, Quang Tri and Thua Thien Hue.
Established in 1994, Lee & Man Paper Manufacturing Ltd grew from a small company into a leading global paper and pulp manufacturer. On September 26, 2003 the group was listed on the Main Board of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.
Senior Vietnamese officials have reiterated that the country will not trade environmental protection for economic growth.