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Vietnam's 'tiger' economy losing its roar

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"The veneer of short-term high growth rates made it hard for the government to move forward on reforms. Why fix something that doesn't appear to be broken? Unfortunately, when growth in the region and major international markets such as Europe, the US, and China slowed, Vietnam's economic weaknesses were exposed," says Ernest Bower, southeast Asia analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies

While Vietnam grew by around 7 percent on average during the decade up to 2010 – lifting Vietnam to World Bank “middle-income” status and pulling in big-ticket investors such as Boeing and Intel – growth for next year is expected to dip to around 5.5 percent.

In Vinh-O, needs are basic, but vital support could be hindered by that dip, especially if slower growth means spending cutbacks or a nervous ruling party stalling on economic reforms. “We need better irrigation canals, better water systems. Eighty-three percent of the people in this area are poor,” says Nguyen Thi Hai, deputy chair of the local People's Committee of the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam.

This summer, the country's central bank conceded that bad debts amounted to as much as 10 percent of all bank loans. And analysts speculate that the real number could be at least twice that.

To compare, total nonperforming loans at four of China's biggest banks came to just 1 percent of all loans last year, meaning Vietnam's bad loans are likely closer to figures for Spain, where around 10 percent of bank loans are not being repaid according to the country's Central Bank.

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