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Wed, Nov 08, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Vietnam's WTO accession passes

NEW ERA East Asia's rising star will become the 150th member of the trade body after its national assembly ratifies the decision of the WTO's General Council

AFP , GENEVA

The WTO's 149 members yesterday admitted Vietnam to the global free trade system, a spokesman said, opening up a new era of greater international commerce and investment for one of East Asia's fastest growing economies.

The decision by consensus in the WTO's governing General Council brought 12 years of negotiations on the burgeoning Asian economy's entry to a successful conclusion and opened the way for membership next year.

A spokesman signaled the decision to reporters while the council's meeting was underway.

Under the organization's rules, the country will officially become the 150th WTO member 30 days after it notifies the organization that its national assembly has ratified the Geneva decision.

A vote by Vietnam's parliament is expected by Dec. 5, according to the Geneva-based WTO.

End of marathon

"The 11-year marathon has ended," said Hanoi's veteran negotiator Vu Khoan, a former deputy prime minister and prominent economic reformer.

"This international integration is completely new for us," he told the Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper. "It has never before happened in our history."

Yesterday's decision was largely a formality after the details of the 900-page deal were sealed with negotiators of 43 economies most involved in trade with Vietnam on Oct. 26.

Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem and Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen attended the meeting of the WTO's governing council.

Vietnam will host an APEC summit on Nov. 18 to Nov. 19 with the added weight of forthcoming WTO membership.

Vietnam -- East Asia's fastest growing economy after China with over 8 percent GDP growth last year -- hopes WTO membership will bring further trade and investment to boost wealth in the emerg-ing market of 84 million people.

"Vietnam has sought to integrate its economy with the global economy," said Carl Thayer, a Vietnam expert from Australia's Defense Force Academy. "Vietnam will now be one among 150 equals who are members of the WTO."

`Doi moi'

To get ready for the new free trade era, Vietnam has sped up its 20-year-old doi moi (renewal) reform process, moved to privatize state-owned enterprises, introduced scores of WTO-compliant laws and made efforts to improve transparency and fight corruption.

WTO accession is an "important breakthrough for Vietnam's economy," said senior government economic adviser Le Dang Doanh.

"Consumers will enjoy lower prices, more choice, more equal competition ... The economy will become more active and other countries will look at Vietnam as a newly emerging market," he said.

But he warned that Vietnamese enterprises must fight to remain competitive, "otherwise they will go bankrupt, workers will lose their jobs and the social security system will come under pressure."

Under WTO rules and agreements struck with the US and other trade partners, Vietnam must drop a host of tariffs and industrial subsidies and lift domestic restrictions against foreign companies.

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