New PM-approved plan for Van Don EZ offers great clarity for investors

By Hieu Nghia    February 24, 2020 | 01:12 am PT
New PM-approved plan for Van Don EZ offers great clarity for investors
An illustration of the development of Van Don Economic Zone in Van Don Island District, Quang Ninh Province, northern Vietnam.
Investment opportunities in marine economy and entertainment service development are revealed in a new development plan for the Van Don Economic Zone in northern Quang Ninh Province.

The plan, approved by the Prime Minister on February 17, is a detailed development roadmap for the next two decades (until 2040) which envisages Van Don as a multi-sector marine economic zone and an entertainment hub with casinos and high-end sea tourism.

The decision provides specific directions based on which Quang Ninh can prepare its own detailed plans for subzones in Van Don EZ - a vital clarity that investors can use to propose their projects.

Van Don IZ will consist of two regions - Cai Bau island and Van Hai archipelago, which will be turned into five development belts.

These will involve high-end eco-resort development; eco-tourism attached to protection of natural heritages; urban entertainment, culture and service development (east of Cai Bau); logistics, high-tech manufacturing and service development (west of Cai Bau); and western open development reserve (in Cam Pha Town and Tien Yen District).

Quang Ninh Chairman Nguyen Van Thang said the PM’s new decision has removed bottlenecks to Van Don’s development. "Many investors, Vietnamese and foreign, had studied business opportunities in Van Don but could not go beyond as the legal framework for the zone was incomplete."

Under the predeceding decision issued in 2009, the Prime Minister had only issued a general plan for Van Don development toward 2020 and with vision to 2030.

Nguyen Manh Tuan, head of the Quang Ninh Economic Zone Management Board, said the board will announce detailed plans for every subzone in Van Don in the second quarter of this year. The plan will be made public in a transparent manner, he added.

The new prime ministerial decision is also the first legal document that mentions that Van Don’s development will include casinos.

Under the draft law on special administrative-economic zones, Van Don, Bac Van Phong in central Khanh Hoa Province and Phu Quoc in southern Kien Giang Province are three special administrative-economic zones that are allowed to have casinos.

Initially, the law was scheduled to be approved by the National Assembly by the end of 2018, but it was delayed indefinitely.

If Van Don also has casinos like Phu Quoc Island and Lang Co in Hue, the zone will have greater chances of attracting more tourism development projects, experts say.

Under the government’s Decree 03 issued in 2017, the condition for a resort and tourism complex to include a casino segment is the project must have an investment capital of over $2 billion, of which $1 billion has to be disbursed before a casino business can begin.

These conditions mean that it’s almost impossible for Vietnamese investors with relatively limited financial means to promote such a project. The Ministry of Finance has proposed an amendment to Decree 03 under which the disbursed capital requirement is lower and that the investment capital requirement includes the amount spent on infrastructure development projects in the locality that the economic zone is located in.

If Decree 03 is amended as proposed, casino development in Van Don will certainly become a greater attraction to investors, especially Vietnamese investors like Sun Group that has expressed interest in this business.

Van Don EZ is located in Van Don Island District, with an area of 2,170 square kilometers including 600 islands and islets. Of this, the natural land area is over 550 square kilometers. 

The new decision foresees Van Don as having a population of 140,000-200,000 people by 2030 and 300,000-500,000 by 2040.

From 2012 to the end of 2019, Quang Ninh attracted VND57.6 trillion ($2.62 billion) on infrastructure development and other projects related to telecom, power and water supply services to island communes that will be the driving force for Van Don’s growth. The public-privte-partnership (PPP) investment form accounted for 70 percent of this investment. The remaining 30 percent was from the state budget.

Key infrastructure projects include the Van Don International Airport, Vietnam’s first private airport which was developed by Sun Group; and the Ha Long-Van Don Expressway.

54 projects with total investment capital of VND100 trillion ($4.31 billion) are being implemented in Van Don EZ, official data shows.

Adjacent to Ha Long Bay, a UNESCO world heritage site, Van Don includes hundreds of islands, most of them inhabited. Among the famous islands are Hon Dua, Thien Nga, Quan Lan, Minh Chau and Ngoc Vung. Those islands are home to primitive forests with diverse ecosystems and beautiful smooth sand beaches which are kilometers long.

Van Don has an especially important position in the Tonkin Gulf as a road and sea link between China and the ASEAN bloc. It is also close to China’s economic centers like Guangdong, Hong Kong and Sangzen.

Casino Corona, invested by the Phu Quoc Tourism Investment and Development JSC (PQT), a Vietnamese company, in Phu Quoc Island is currenly the only casino in the country allowed to have Vietnamese residents as players on a pilot basis.

Corona, which opened in January, is part of an ecotourism and amusement complex built at a cost of VND50 trillion ($2.16 billion). It is in a three-year trial phase, operating 24/7, and Vietnamese who want to gamble must be over 21 years, earn a minimum of VND10 million ($433) a month and have no criminal record or objections from family. The entry fee is VND1 million ($43) for 24 hours or VND25 million ($1,080) a month.

Laguna Lăng Cô, one of Asia’s largest integrated resorts with international hospitality operator Banyan Tree as its managing partner, in central Thua Thien-Hue Province received a casino license in mid 2018. This was the first casino license issued by the Vietnamese government in 10 years.

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