WTO Formally Invites Vietnam to Join

The Associated Press
Tuesday, November 7, 2006; 10:19 AM

GENEVA -- The World Trade Organization formally invited Vietnam on Tuesday to become the commerce body's 150th member, officials said.

The organization's general council approved the accession terms for Vietnam with the fall of a gavel from WTO chief Pascal Lamy. Vietnam completed 11 years of entry talks with the Geneva-based group last month.

The communist country can join 30 days after its National Assembly signs the accord, which it is expected to do swiftly.

Tuesday's approval from the WTO comes just days before Hanoi will be in the spotlight when it hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, drawing leaders from 21 countries and thousands of business executives from around the world.

Vietnam is Asia's fastest-growing economy after China, and the Asian Development Bank in August projected its economy would expand by 7.8 percent this year. With a population of 84 million, it is the second most populous country behind Russia still outside the WTO.

Membership of the global trade body will give Vietnam increased access to foreign markets and the opportunity to take trade grievances to a neutral arbiter, strengthening its hand against nations that accuse Vietnam of illegally dumping goods on their markets. In return, the country will be required to drop its high tariffs on foreign imports and eliminate subsidies for state-owned companies.

Foreign companies will enjoy far greater access to Vietnam's economy, which has averaged 7.5 percent growth over the last decade, one of fastest rates in the world.

Outside investment in Vietnam has risen 41 percent in the last year. Foreign companies have been encouraged by Vietnam's market reforms, which began tentatively in the late 1980s, moved in fits and starts during the 1990s and greatly accelerated over the last three years.

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

Vietnam's garment exports to the U.S. have skyrocketed, and the industry is hoping to reap even greater profits after joining the WTO, which will require the United States to lift quotas on Vietnamese exports. But expectations have been tempered by ongoing negotiations on a trade normalization bill that the U.S. Senate has yet to approve.

© 2006 The Associated Press