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US eyes Vietnam trade accord


U.S. eyes Vietnam trade accord

By Steve Hirsch

The Bush administration yesterday announced the beginning of trade talks with Vietnam that could lead to a free-trade agreement with the former U.S. enemy.

The U.S. Trade Representative’s Office announced the beginning of talks on a trade and investment framework agreement (TIFA) yesterday, three days after Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab met in Washington with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Pham Gia Khiem, who is also its foreign minister.

This type of agreement can lead to a free-trade deal, but that is not always the case. An administration official cautioned that while the United States is always looking at opportunities to deepen and strengthen trade ties, the agreement will not necessarily lead to a full trade pact.

The official, who wished to remain anonymous, said the talks will include such issues as intellectual-property rights protection and commitments to open its markets that Vietnam made when it joined the World Trade Organization. The agreement would expand on the free-trade deal the United States and Vietnam signed in 2001.

"I am enthusiastic about our joint vision for the future of this relationship," Mrs. Schwab said. "Vietnam is a dynamic and rapidly growing economy, and we see a TIFA as an important vehicle for promoting continuation of the impressive expansion in our trade and investment relationship that we have witnessed over the past few years."

Congress granted Vietnam normal trade status in December, and the next month the country officially joined the WTO.

U.S.-ASEAN Business Council President Matthew Daley, whose organization aims to build ties with Association of Southeast Asian Nations countries, welcomed the news.

"We think that this will build on the momentum generated by the United States’ decision to accord permanent normal trade relations to Vietnam and Vietnam’s accession to the WTO," he said.

Vietnam is the 43rd-largest U.S. goods trading partner with $9.7 billion in goods trade last year, including $1.1 billion in U.S. exports. Two-way trade has grown 500 percent since 2001.

The talks have not been scheduled but are likely to start in the next few weeks.

The administration official expressed hope the agreement could be reached by the time Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet visits later this year, although a White House spokesman said no date for the visit has been set.

 source: Washington Times