Vietnam, Business Leaders Hail Historic U.S. Free Trade Vote

December 13, 2006

Vietnam hailed a historic vote in the U.S. Congress on Saturday that fully normalized trade between the two nations, a final milestone in the process of reconciliation between the former foes.

“This event is of major significance for the ties between Vietnam and the United States,” said Le Dzung, spokesman for Vietnam’s Foreign Ministry.

Nguyen Tuong Van, who works for Vietnam’s legislative National Assembly, said the vote was a “landmark” in bilateral relations between the two nations.

“The bill passed by a wide margin, which shows the goodwill of the U.S. Congress toward Vietnam,” Van said.

In addition to its symbolic importance, the vote means that U.S. businesses will be able to take full advantage of Vietnam’s entrance into the World Trade Organization later this month, when the communist country will begin lowering tariffs and opening new markets to foreign investors.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam issued a statement saying the vote was good news for U.S. businesses eager to invest in Vietnam’s booming economy, the fastest-growing in Southeast Asia.

“Vietnam’s WTO accession will bring AmCham members increased opportunities in both the goods and services sectors,” said David Knapp, the group’s chairman. “Vietnam’s 84 million people will benefit from the better choice, higher quality, and lower prices that will result from increased openness and competition under WTO rules.”

The United States and Vietnam implemented a bilateral trade agreement five years ago, and trade between the two nations has grown from US$1.2 billion in 2000 to US$7.8 billion last year.

But Vietnam’s WTO accession agreement opens up further opportunities for foreign investors, which could have been closed off to U.S. businesses if Congress hadn’t approved “permanent normal trade relations,” known as PNTR, for Vietnam on Saturday.

Businesses from other WTO nations were already poised to take advantage of Vietnam’s WTO accession and would have had a head start on U.S. companies if the trade bill hadn’t passed.

When Vietnam’s WTO membership takes effect, the country will lower many tariffs and open up previously protected economic sectors, especially in service industries such as banking, financial services and insurance.

“The passage of PNTR will create good business conditions for American enterprises,” said Hoang Van Dung, vice chairman of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry. “They will benefit more from it than Vietnamese enterprises.”

Dung said he hoped that U.S. investment in Vietnam would increase after Vietnam’s WTO membership takes effect on Dec. 28. Singapore, Japan, Taiwan and various other nations have invested more in Vietnam than the United States, which ranked ninth out of 74 nations with investments in Vietnam.

Passage of the bill is a final, symbolic step in the reconciliation between the two former foes, Dung said.

“The past is something we can’t change,” he said. “Now we can look forward to the future.”

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