When a Vietnamese peasant thinks about a tractor, this must be a Belarusian tractor. Someone would say I made it up, but it is true. “Belarus”, the brand of the Minsk-based Tractor Plant (MTZ) is the best-known tractor brand in Vietnam, and all tractors in Vietnamese fields powered by engines over 50 hp “were born” in Belarus. The authority of Belarusian tractors is so high that all examples in manuals for tractor drivers and mechanics are based on Belarusian models.
This popularity is due to many reasons, one of them being the economic embargo that the U.S. imposed on Vietnam right after it was defeated in the war in the 70s. The embargo was lifted by President Bill Clinton in 1994, but by that time the Vietnamese market had already been conquered by Socialist countries. There is a huge difference, though, between safe work in most favorable economic conditions and need to keep the market niche unchanged under tough conditions of a bitter competition. Belarusian tractors have been doing perfectly well competing even with the Renault giant.
The director of the “Mekong” corporation Chan Min Chi tells me that Frenchmen had brought over a thousand tractors to Vietnam and were giving them almost for free as part of a gigantic campaign. However, the wise Vietnamese peasants looked at the fancy French tractors and got back to the traditional Belarusian models. Why?
Peasant Nguen Ngok Loy provides an explanation: “a Belarusian tractor is a versatile machine with a wide range of attachments that is easy to operate. Also, it is easy to get spare parts. I used a Belarusian tractor in Binfyok where I was tilling for sugar cane and beans. You can also farm land for rubber trees.”
You need spare parts, you go to Chan Minh Chi, who has been working with Belarusian tractors for 27 years now. He started as a mechanic, and now his personal company guarantees it can deal with any malfunction within 48 hours. He adds proudly: “No company provides services like ours.”
Besides, unlike those French models we mentioned above, all Belarusian tractors work greatly in the tropics. All “Belarus” tractors have modified cabins, radiators and heat regulators.
The Vietnamese government has allotted over $1 million for the “Mekong” corporation to launch a pilot leasing projects. Chan Minh Chi tells me why the government of his country is so interested in the project: “a Belarusian tractor is required by every Vietnamese household.” There are objective reasons why Belarusian tractors cannot appear in all households, though.
Each Vietnamese family has land plots, but they are small, not more than half a hectare. This is why families often hire tractor drivers such as Nguen Ngok Loy to till several plots at a time.
In 1998 the Vietnamese government launched a “Doi Moi” upgrade campaign. The national economy remains state-controlled, but the private sector is getting more encouraged both in agribusiness and industry.
Peasants have been allowed to set up their own productions. They may lease an old “Belarus” from the state (these machines are 25 years old, but they work well) and in a couple of years accumulate enough money to buy another tractor. The first purchase is normally a small and used Japanese model. Another two or three years will be required to purchase a real thing, the tractor of dreams, which is made in Belarus. The peasant pays 30% of the cost, and the state provides a loan to cover the remaining 70%. Chan Minh Chi is certain: “If Vietnam keep growing at this pace our peasants will get richer and will be able to buy more tractors. These will be Belarusian tractors, of course.”
Over 6,000 Belarusian tractors work in Vietnamese fields now.
Another Belarusian maker that is well known in Vietnam, BelAZ (which makes dump trucks) has to adapt its machines to the tropical climate, too. The powerful trucks are in demand at coal mines not far from the city of Ha Long and in the neighboring Laos. Some of the Belarusian trucks are real old-timers that have been used for over 25 years. Nevertheless, they keep working, which serves as the best advertisement of Belarusian tractors in East Asia.
Chen Bin, the deputy chief of the truck unit at the Deo Nai coal strip mine says: “BelAZ is a good truck; we have been working long with BelAZs and would like more trucks of the kind here.”
Tractors and dump trucks are not the only exports of Belarus to Vietnam. I traveled all over that country and met “fellow countrymen” everywhere: all models of our MAZ trucks (made by Minsk Automobile Plant) and even “Minsk” motorcycles not far from the Laos border. “Small wonder,” specialists with the Russian-Vietnamese tropical center tell me. They test machinery for suitability for the tropics and believe Belarusian motorcycles are the best to ride in mountains. Nice to hear this.
Last year Belarus’ exports to Vietnam rose 40% on the year, the range of exported goods being as wide as never before. The establishment of joint ventures will be the next phase of cooperation.
Belarus’ Ambassador to Vietnam Alexander Kutselai says: “We are working on a joint design center to make integrated circuits, a serious long-term project. Vietnam has already allocated money for the project. There is another good project: MAZ plans to organize its assembling facility here. The Belarusian plant has already supplied 100 kits, and the first Vietnamese MAZ trucks will very soon be made by local companies. Many other Belarusian makers can follow suit.”
Not only commodities, but also human beings play an important part in the development of Vietnam and friendly relations between our countries. Over 3,000 graduates of Belarusian universities work in Vietnam now, among them ministers of education and agriculture, 10 directors of research institutes and 20 professors, and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
The “father” of the Vietnamese Internet Bak Hyng Khang graduated from the physical department of Belarusian State University in 1966, but he still calls himself a minsker. “I traveled all around the world, I was in 40 countries, but I can’t forget Belarus. This is my second motherland,” he says. Before our meeting he had told his wife he was going to meet the “home people”, and she was certain there would be many warm words.
“You are always welcome in Vietnam,” Vu Suan Hong tells me in perfect Russian. He is the chairman of Vietnam’s union of friendship with foreign countries. He was not educated in Minsk, but he calls the Belarusian capital city his favorite city in the world. He was in Minsk in December 2005. Vu Suan Hong is an ardent advocate of the development of all-round relations between Vietnam and Belarus. “We want the Belarusian market to import more goods from Vietnam, we want to be able to sell directly, without intermediaries. You must be well aware how much coffee and seafood we have to sell to buy one BelAZ,” he says. According to him, the Vietnamese are optimists and always believe that the best is yet to come. “We know the value of peace and understand the Belarusian people better that anyone else,” says Vu Suan Hong and gives me a coffee refill (the strongest coffee in the world, I swear!).
Hanoi – Da Nang – Ho Chi Minh
by Inessa Pleskachevskaya