• Björn Koslowski

Ba Ria Vung Tau: More than Petrochemicals and Beaches

Updated: Mar 26, 2021


Most folks in Ho Chi Minh City will know Vung Tau as a local recreational area. The beaches of this resort town are accessible within less than two hours from the southern Vietnamese metropolis. However, to most Vietnamese, Ba Ria Vung Tau is also well-known as a main hub for the country’s oil and gas industry. The province furthermore features one of the fastest-growing harbors in the world and an emerging manufacturing industry. So, there are a lot of contrasts for such a small province. Within this blog article, we would like to shed a light on Ba Ria Vung Tau illuminating facts beyond petrochemicals and beaches.


Please note that this article is part of a marketing project in cooperation with Phu My 3 Specialized Industrial Park.


If one – as a newbie – learns of the provincial name of “Ba Ria - Vung Tau” (short: BRVT) for the first time she will surely be intrigued. In fact, BRVT is the only Vietnamese province with a compound name. It once entirely was part of the province of Dong Nai. In 1979, Vung Tau and the islands of Con Dao were severed into a "special zone". Ba Ria was then also separated from Dong Nai in 1992 and merged with Vung Tau. Hence: Ba Ria - Vung Tau.

The province lies on the East Sea which is part of the Pacific Ocean. It borders the province of Binh Thuan in the east, Dong Nai – as an industrial center – in the north and Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in the southwest. BRVT is the third-smallest province in the south of Vietnam with a population of 1.1 million. It has a tropical climate with year-round warm or hot weather.


Apart from the Con Dao islands, BRVT has three distinct faces:

1. Vung Tau: Located on a peninsula in the south is a resort town.

2. Ba Ria: The capital and an immense hinterland in the east.

3. Phu My: The industrial center in the west.



Map of BRVT (ex Con Dao)



Tourism


Vung Tau’s modern history began with the colonial era under the French Empire. In 1895 it was declared a city by the governor-general and made into the first resort town in the imperial Vietnamese holdings. The “Villa Blanche” in Vung Tau is a monument to this development: Built in 1898 it served as a prime retreat for colonial administrators from Saigon. In 1899 the city and its surroundings were formed into a new administrative unit known as “Cap Saint-Jacques”. Following this movement, the French empire not only developed tourism projects but also harbors, power plants and fishery industries. While the French left in 1954, their legacy lives on to this day. Vung Tau still is a prime destination for HCMC dwellers as a weekend retreat. The beaches of the city can be reached in less than two hours from the southern Vietnamese metropolis. But it is not only that: Industry and logistics also still have a foothold here.



Petrochemical Industry


The development of harbors and manufacturing has moved away from the city of Vung Tau to the Western part of the province. Starting signal for this development was the exploration of oil fields on the maritime continental shelf between Vung Tau and the islands of Con Dao in 1984. Two years later, the joint venture of Vietsovpetro (PetroVietnam/Zarubezhneft) began extracting here. Processing of the crude oil was carried out in the western part of BRVT. This region rapidly developed into a center for oil and gas processing as well as storage. In fact, over 90% of the Vietnamese crude oil reserves and almost a fifth of the natural gas reserves are being stored here today. BRVT already has attracted several petrochemical enterprises such as the Phu My Fertilizer Plant and a Linde ASU.


An oil rig off BRVT’s coast


However, the biggest investments in this field are yet to come. The Hyosung Petrochemical Project worth 1.2 billion USD recently started operation and is in the process of expansion. In 2023, the Long Son Petro Chemical Project with an investment volume of 5.4 billion USD will start producing polyethylene, polypropylene, and other products. The western part of BRVT will also be developed into a leading LNG power hub. The Long Son LNG Power Complex will be put into operation in 2025 with a capacity of 1.2 GW. Until 2026, the Cai Mep Ha LNG Complex will be finished contributing a capacity of another 6 GW. Both projects will combine the construction of jetties for LNG imports with a number of gas turbines.


Key industrial and petrochemical investments BRVT (Selection)



Cai Mep Port


Cai Mep International Terminal


While oil and gas jetties dominated the seafront of BRVT’s emerging industrial belt for a long time, the province also developed a major commercial harbor in recent years. Cai Mep Thi Vai Port (Cai Mep) began operations in 2009. It can receive vessels of up to 200,000 DWT. Cai Mep is thus part of an exclusive club of just 21 ports worldwide able to welcome these massive ships. This a true “unique selling point”. The Saigon Port System – especially Cat Lai Port – still is the main international transport hub for southern Vietnam. However, because it is lying inland it can only handle medium-sized vessels that usually serve Asian destinations. If companies want to handle ex-Asia from here, they will have to transship in Singapore, Port Klang (Malaysia) or Hong Kong. This costs time and money. In contrast, Cai Mep aims to offer direct, large volume ex-Asia services including lines to Europe and America. However, the first years of operation have been a rough patch for the port because it lacked hinterland connection to the industrial centers of Dong Nai and Binh Duong. Due to high overland transportation costs to Cai Mep, enterprises in these provinces preferred shipping through the Saigon Port System and transshipments for ex-Asia freight. However, with the completion of National Highway 51 to Dong Nai, the soon-to-be-built “Vung Tau Expressway” as well as with increasing barge services, the hinterland connection largely improved in recent years. And so did Cai Mep’s situation: In 2019, the port was utilized at 90% of its capacity and handled a quarter of southern Vietnam’s cargo volumes. Today, it is one of the fastest growing ports in the world. Its increasing importance has been underlined by a recent proposal by a Belgian-Dutch consortium to build a 983 million USD seaport logistics complex here.


Industrial and logistical projects in western BRVT (selection)


Manufacturing


While – at least in terms of investment volume – oil & gas is dominating the industrial landscape, BRVT also features a nascent manufacturing scene. It created a bridgehead in the northwestern corner of the province in the town of Phu My. In fact, of the 13 industrial zones of BRVT, ten have been established here. This is no coincidence: Historically, the proximity to HCMC was – and still is – a major USP of BRVT’s northwest. The southern metropolis is just 40 km away, making commuting for expatriates and key staff feasible. Living in HCMC’s main foreigner “District 2” and working in Phu My may surely be an option. And then there’s of course shipping: Enterprises invested in Vietnam often need to import input materials and export finished goods. This means harbor access is critical. Because the infrastructure around HCMC cannot keep up with the rapid development of the region, roads are chronically clogged here. Folks in HCMC actually measure distances not in kilometers, but in travel time. 😉 Thus, having a harbor close by may turn out to be crucial for investors. Northwestern BRVT shines in this respect. It not only offers a shipping option through above-mentioned Cai Mep, which is located here, but also lies in proximity to the Saigon port system with Cat Lai just 30 km away. In terms of infrastructure the situation will improve further. In 2025, the new Long Thanh Airport is slated for start of operation. It will replace Ho Chi Minh City’s current airport (which is a bit far from BRVT) and will be a mere 20 km away from Phu My. This makes business travel and airfreight much easier for companies invested here.


Distances to key points-of-interests as measured from BRVT’s industrial center


Fun fact: Many industrial have consecutive numbers, like “Phu My” 1/2/3. However, they do normally not have the same investor or belong to the same group.


There are two main clusters of industrial zones in the northwest of BRVT: Five are located in My Xuan, which is a ward of Phu My town and three are in Phu My itself. The industrial zones here have attracted a lot of foreign enterprises, especially from Japan and Korea. One leading industry is metal processing with two big steel makers – POSCO SS Vina and Vina Kyoei – located here. But there are also many other branches represented.


Phu My 3 Specialized Industrial Park (Phu My 3) – our partner for this blog article – is a local venture with Japanese management input. It is operating since 2016 and has been elected as a “model industrial park” of both Vietnamese and Japanese governments. Phu My 3 aims to provide high-quality services and acts as a “one-stop-shop” for its investors. It is thus not surprising that within the past five years of operation Phu My 3 has already attracted 20 foreign – mostly Japanese – companies with an investment volume of over 1 billion USD. They are forming a cross section of manufacturing industries. There is furniture maker Nitori, Yoshino Gypsum, Iguacu Coffee/Marubeni or the cardboard manufacturer Kraft of Asia. These tenants are profiting from modern road and electricity infrastructure as well as direct access to Cai Mep port. Water supply and wastewater treatment facilities fulfill latest international standards. While land usage is normally restricted to a maximum of 50 years in Vietnam, investors at Phu My 3 may enjoy 70 years (conditions apply). Also, land use fee will be exempted for 20 years after the industrial park comes into operation.

Thanks to the rapid growth of its industry the overall economy of BRVT is expanding at breakneck speed, too. In 2019, the provincial GDP (GRDP) – excluding petroleum – grew by 7.65%. The GRDP/capita stands at about USD 6,000 and is the third highest in Vietnam after Hanoi and HCMC. On the upside, this means that the living standard in BRVT – especially in Vung Tau – is quite high. The city may be considered a viable option to live in (keep in mind: Limited international schools/no international hospitals here). On the downside, a high GRDP implies high wages. Indeed, most industrial parks in the Northwest of BRVT fall into the highest or second-highest minimum wage tier. Because of the proximity to HCMC and the well-developed petrochemical industry, there however is a good supply of high-skilled workers available.


Conclusion


BRVT has seen a strong economic development over the past twenty years. It changed from a pure weekend get-away for Ho Chi Minh City slickers to Vietnam’s prime petrochemical location. While strengthening this industrial focus, the province is also destined to become a logistical hub (potentially even as a transshipment base) and a manufacturing center. Just by counting key projects, BRVT will probably obtain more than 15 billion USD in industrial investment until the mid-2020s. This surely is good news for potential manufacturing investors. Investments will bring more and better shipping options, enhance skilled worker supply and improve overall living conditions in the province. The industrial and logistical boom here combined with the close proximity to HCMC make BRVT an interesting investment option for manufacturing enterprises.


...aaand action! Watch our video on BRVT here:



If you have any further questions or are in search of a manufacturing location in Vietnam, feel free letting us know. For contact details see: https://www.deinternationalvietnam.com/investment-location-analysis


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