The measures, which take effect this month, have drawn heavy criticism from foreign business groups and embassies which have labelled them potentially WTO-violating non-tariff barriers designed to slow imports and help narrow the trade deficit.

"They don't violate WTO rules. They have no intention to restrict imports from the EU or any of Vietnam's trade partners nor to reduce the trade volume," Tran Tuan Anh, vice minister of Industry and Trade, said on the sideline of the mid-term consultative group meeting.

From June 1 a Ministry of Industry and Trade notice requires mobile phone, alcohol and cosmetics importers to obtain a letter of authorisation notarised by a Vietnamese diplomatic mission in the country of origin. Then the products can be imported but only via one of three Vietnamese sea ports.

A separate decision makes it more complex to import cars.

Anh said the measures did not aim to narrow the trade deficit, but rather were put in place to protect the market from fake goods.

"One purpose of this new decision is to resolutely fight against fake and counterfeit goods, which are rampant in Vietnam," he said.

"Counterfeit goods have been very damaging and we are having trouble controlling it. This meassures is to facilitate the control quality of import goods."

In May the trade deficit, which has undermined confidence in an economy struggling to find balance, hit $1.7 billion, it's widest point in a single month since December 2009.

The state-run newspaper Tuoi Tre reported earlier this month that China accounted for 84.5 percent of Vietnam's $936 million in cell phone imports.

Anh said the ministry was working with government agencies to improve the paperwork procedures to speed up the process for importers.

Reuters - June 10, 2011