Controversial aid project closely watched by Carl XVI Gustaf

The paper mill Bai Bang north of Hanoi is the most controversial and expensive foreign aid project in Sweden’s history.
     Sweden supported Bai Bang with around SEK 2.8 Billion from the decision to go ahead in the early 1970’s until 1995.
     Bai Bang paper mill operated at full capacity 1996 and is now completely managed by Vietnamese.
     The name is today also associated with a modern industry that employs 3000 people and the center of a comparatively well-off city that has grown up around the mill.
     One who had done his homework and took most visitors and the Vietnamese hosts by surprise on the royal visit 3 February 2004 when he fired off a round of initiated questions about Bai Bang was the king himself.
     “I came by helicopter and one can see a bit from the air. But not from where you bring in the fresh water. And where do you dispose of the waste water?” asked Carl XVI Gustaf.
     The hosts responded satisfactory and then had to take more environmentally oriented questions from the king. It too went fine.
     But how come the king knew this much about Bai Bang?
     “All began when I had an internship at Sweden’s foreign aid agency Sida in the early 1970’s,” explains the king. ”And I got very early information about Bai Bang. The architect came up to the royal castle and showed me the designs. Ever since I have carefully followed how Bai Bang developed.”
     Most other watchers of Bai Bang’s development did so because of their political convictions.
     Those on the left wing cheered.
     Right wingers called it a big waste of money to ungrateful and ignorant communists.
     The truth lies somewhere in between.
     It is doubtful whether Bai Bang has reached operational profitability yet.
     But paper it makes and the transfer of technology and know how from Sweden to Vietnam in this project has undoubtedly led to a fully functional paper mill and sustainable supply of raw material. Plus a prosperous local society
     “The success in the production of Bai Bang has significantly contributed to the development of the social life of the local community. Of culture, education and industrialisation and modernisation of the country, especially the development of paper and forestry industry in the northern part of Vietnam,” says Vo Si Dong, director general of the Bai Bang paper mill.
     In 2002 did Bai Bang produce 75 000 tonnes paper.
     The products made there are printing and writing paper, photocopy paper, schoolbook and tissue paper.
     Currently Bai Bang holds about 40 percent of the domestic paper market.
     A first phase expansion project at Bai Bang is currently being completed, financed through a USD 51 million loan from the Nordic Investment Bank, the Nordic Development Fund, Sida and the Vietnam Development fund.
     “The rebuilt process line was put in operation early this year. It increases our paper production to 100 000 tonnes and another 61 000 tonnes pulp. We are also improving the effluent treatment plant to minimise environmental pollution,” continues Vo Si Dong.
     Raw material supply is also overseen. Last December did the government merge 18 forest enterprises into one company with 6000 workers and a better scale of economics in the operation.
     Around 250 000 ha is utilized for raw material production, including species like eucalyptus, acacia magnum and bamboo.
     The future may see further expansions.
A new pulp mill, with a capacity of 250 000 tonnes of pulp, is on the drawing board.
     This will require investments in the range of USD 300 Million, of which Vietnam hopes Sweden and the Nordic countries are able to finance around USD 241 Million for new state of the art equipment.
     “We are going to submit the feasibility study to the government this year and hope that Sweden will continue its cooperation and support to this project,” concludes Vo Si Dong.

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