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Vietnam's economic growth reaches 13-year low in 2012

HANOI -- Vietnam's economic growth slowed to the weakest pace in 13 years in 2012, official figures showed Monday, piling more pressure on the country's communist rulers.

Gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 5.03 percent this year, according to the General Statistics Office, missing a government target of 5.2 percent, which had already been lowered from an earlier forecast.

In 2011 the economy expanded by 5.9 percent.

“Economic growth is falling sharply. It's not a recession but the figure is too low,” said Vu Dinh Anh, deputy director of the state-backed Institute of Economy and Finance.

“Growth won't be very positive in 2013 either,” Anh added.

There are signs of rising public dissatisfaction over the state of the economy, including a growing chorus of online criticism.

In October the communist party as well as Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung admitted to mistakes in their economic stewardship.

The country faces growing worries about inflation, bank debts, falling foreign direct investment and a string of financial scandals among state-owned firms such as shipbuilder Vinashin.

In an attempt to boost struggling companies, Vietnam's central bank on Monday reduced its key interest rates for the sixth time this year.

The refinancing rate — charged on loans to commercial banks — was cut to 9 percent from 10 percent while the discount rate was lowered to 7 percent from 8 percent.

Vietnam launched a string of interest rate rises in 2011 to prevent the economy from overheating and to rein in double-digit inflation, but with growth slowing the authorities this year resumed monetary stimulus efforts.

The economy showed signs of picking up pace slightly towards the end of 2012, with GDP growing 5.44 percent in the fourth quarter from a year earlier, after a rise of 5.05 percent in the third quarter, the data showed.

Inflation slowed to 6.8 percent in December year-on-year from 7.08 percent in November, the General Statistics Office said.

Vietnam also logged a trade surplus in 2012 for the first time since 1993, totaling US$284 million, but that was largely because of the weak domestic economy, it added.

“The main reason for the trade surplus this year was a slowdown in domestic production and consumption, so imports grew much more slowly than exports,” the office said.

(Earlier story on page 6)

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