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Why a carmaker bought a grocery franchise in Vietnam

Odd partnership highlights a trade rule since scrapped by the TPP and EU deal

  © EPA/Jiji

HO CHI MINH CITY -- It sounds like the setup for a Vietnamese riddle: Why did the car company buy the supermarket? But instead of a punchline, the answer reveals a common yet obscure aspect of foreign investment in Vietnam.

The blandly named economic needs test, or ENT, is a little-known trade tool that Vietnam uses to control foreign investment and protect local companies. To expand in the country, foreign chains must pass the test by applying to local governments, which decide if their cities need the new business. If the answer is no, the expansion is blocked.

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