Imports this month were estimated at $4.1 billion, down nearly 45 percent from the same period last year as traditionally big import items such as oil and steel products suffered sharp drops, the government statistics office said in a report.

Oil product imports were expected to tumble to a quarter of last January to just $244 million due to lower world prices.

Exports in January were expected to dip 24.2 percent from the same period last year to $3.8 billion, mainly due to lower world crude prices.

Crude oil exports, Vietnam's main cash earner, fell more than 50 percent from a year earlier to just $424 million, even though volume rose 12.4 percent to 1.38 million tonnes, the government report said.

Coffee shipments were expected to fall nearly 19 percent to 140,000 tonnes while export value would plunge nearly 30 percent from a year ago to $217 million.

Rice was the only key export item that rose in both value and volume this month with shipments forecast to jump 129.2 percent from a year ago to 300,000 tonnes and value up 152.8 percent at $130 million.

By Nguyen Nhat Lam - reuters - January 22, 2009