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Natural resources of Vietnam

Although Vietnam is relatively rich in natural resources, the country's protracted state of war has precluded their proper exploitation. Coal reserves, located mainly in the North, have been estimated at 20 billion tons. With Soviet assistance, coal mining has been expanded somewhat. Commercially exploitable metals and minerals include iron ore, tin, copper, lead, zinc, nickel, manganese, titanium, chromite, tungsten, bauxite, apatite, graphite, mica, silica sand, and limestone. Vietnam is deficient, however, in coking coal, which, prior to the outbreak of hostilities with China in 1979, it traditionally imported from the Chinese. Gold deposits are small.

Vietnam's production of crude oil and natural gas was in very preliminary stages in the late 1980s and the amounts of commercially recoverable reserves were not available to Western analysts. With the cooperation of the Soviet Union, Vietnam began exploitation of a reported 1-billion-ton offshore oil find southeast of the Vung Tau-Con Dao Special Zone. By early 1987, the Vietnamese were exporting crude oil for the first time in shipments to Japan. Production remained low, estimated at about 5,000 barrels per day, although Vietnam's minimum domestic oil requirements totaled 30,000 barrels per day. Despite optimistic plans for developing offshore fields, Vietnam was likely to remain dependent on Soviet-supplied petroleum products through the 1990s.

Vietnam's ability to exploit its resources diminished in the early 1980s, as production fell from the levels attained between 1976 and 1980. In the 1980s, the need to regulate investment and focus spending on projects with a short-term payoff pointed to continued slow development of the country's resource base, with the exception of areas targeted by the Soviet Union for economic assistance, such as oil, gas, coal, tin, and apatite.

Vietnam's fisheries are modest, even though the country's lengthy coast provides it with a disproportionately large offshore economic zone for its size. In the 1980s, Vietnam claimed a 1-million-square- kilometer offshore economic zone and an annual catch of 1.3 to 1.4 million tons. More than half the fish caught, however, were classified as being of low-quality. Schools of fish reportedly were small and widely dispersed.

As the 1990s approached, it seemed increasingly likely that Vietnam's economy would remain predominantly agricultural. This trend, however, did not necessarily limit attainable economic growth since Vietnam processed a significant amount of unused land with agricultural potential. According to Vietnamese statistics of the mid 1980s, agricultural land then in use theoretically could be expanded by more than 50 percent to occupy nearly one-third of the nation. Funds and equipment for expensive land-reclamation projects were scarce, however, and foreign economists believed that a projected increase in agricultural land use of about 20 to 25 percent was more realistic. Even if the reclaimed land were only minimally productive, an increase in land use would increase agricultural output substantially.

Both the availability of land and the density of settlement in traditional agricultural areas--about 463 persons per square kilometer in the Red River Delta and 366 persons per square kilometer in the Mekong Delta-- explained much of the government's commitment to the building of new economic zones in less-settled areas. During the period from 1976 to 1980, only 1.5 million out of the 4 million persons targeted for relocation actually were moved to new economic zones. The government's Third Five-Year Plan (1981-85) called for the relocation of 2 million people by 1985, and subsequent plans projected the resettlement of as many as 10 million by 1999. By the end of 1986, however, the Vietnamese reported that fewer than 3 million people had been resettled since the program began. Slow progress in bringing new land into production, low yields on reclaimed land, and hardships endured by resettled workers-- particularly former city dwellers, many of whom chose to return home--testified to the problems inherent in the resettlement program.


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