Vietnam has attracted a record amount of foreign direct investment this year and Japanese automaker Toyota says the company's future in 2008 looks bright. Claudia Blume at VOA's Asia News Center in Hong Kong has more on these and other stories in our weekly round-up of business news from the region.

Vietnam has attracted more than $20 billion worth of foreign direct investment pledges in 2007, a surge of almost 70 percent compared to last year. Since the beginning of 2007, almost 1,500 new projects have been licensed. Most of them focus on construction, electronics production, telecommunications and other high-tech areas.

Vietnam's low labor costs and young, highly literate workforce have made the country a popular manufacturing hub in Asia.

Japan's Toyota Motor Corporation said it expects to sell 9.85 million vehicles around the world in 2008, up from a previous target of 9.8 million. This increases the odds that Toyota could overtake U.S.-rival General Motors as the world's best-selling automaker.

The Japanese company, which pioneered eco-friendly hybrids, has a strong following in the United States. But Toyota's president Katsuaki Watanabe said that because of economic troubles in the U.S., he expects little, if any, growth in that market next year.

Watanabe said that instead, he expects solid growth in several fast-growing emerging markets.

"Natural resource-rich countries such as China, Brazil, Russia or the Middle East or emerging countries such as China and Brazil, they are expected to continue very solid, rapid expansion and we on the Toyota part intend to strengthen production structures in those emerging countries," he said.

Malaysia has signed a $16 billion gas development contract with Iran. Under the agreement, Malaysia's SKS group and Iran's Pars Oil and Gas Company will jointly develop the country's offshore Golshan and Ferdos gas fields.

The deal came despite U.S. pressure on European and Asian companies to reduce business with Iran's oil and gas industries. Washington wants to isolate Teheran in a dispute over the country's nuclear program.

Less than three weeks ago, China agreed to develop the Yadavaran oil field in Iran, another crucial deal for Iran's energy industry.

China's government is testing novel ways to boost domestic consumption and narrow the wealth gap between city and rural dwellers. In a pilot program that will start in early 2008, farmers in the agricultural provinces of Shandong, Henan and Sichuan will be given a 13 percent discount on televisions, mobile phones and other electrical appliances. Air conditioners and washing machines will be subsidized later.