WTO Draft Report Says Vietnam Ready To Join

Vietnam has succeeded in introducing the reforms necessary for it to join the World Trade Organization and become the world body's 150th member.

GENEVA (AP) - Vietnam has succeeded in introducing the reforms necessary for it to join the World Trade Organization and become the world body's 150th member, according to a WTO draft report obtained by The Associated Press.

Vietnam is Asia's best performing economy after China. The Asian Development Bank last month projected Vietnam's economy would expand by 7.8 percent this year. With a population of 84 million, Vietnam is the second most populous country behind Russia still outside the WTO. Hanoi has been seeking membership since 1995.

The 263-page report by a group of diplomats involved in the communist country's negotiations with the Geneva-based body said they had examined Vietnam's foreign trade policies and concluded it should be invited to join the Marrakech Agreement establishing the WTO.

The report, dated Oct. 19, will be addressed at a meeting later this week. The panel is expected to recommend the WTO's 149 members call a November meeting to formally invite Vietnam to join.

Once Vietnam's membership has been approved, the country has to ratify the deal. Vietnam can then become a full member after 30 days, meaning it could join as early as December, but still not in time for when it hosts the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in mid-November.

Vietnam cleared a major hurdle in May when it finished final bilateral market-access negotiations with the United States, even though the U.S. Congress has yet to vote on granting Vietnam permanent normal trading relations. However, it is expected that Washington will allow Hanoi to join the WTO, with the country only enjoying the full benefits of trade with the U.S. once Congress has passed the measure.

Under the trade body's rules, each member had the right to seek its own trade deal with a candidate before approving that candidate's membership. The bilateral deals negotiated by individual members are eventually consolidated so that all members trade with the new member under the same conditions.

One topic thought to have been outstanding on the multilateral front was Washington's insistence that labor rights be included in the terms of accession. The report, however, does not refer to working standards.

As a WTO member, Vietnam would benefit from the removal of quotas that limit textile exports to Europe and the United States. But industries would also lose subsidies and tax breaks, putting pressure on them to raise their standards without government protection.

On the other side, American textile groups have warned lawmakers that allowing Vietnam into the WTO will lead to a flood of cheap clothing into the United States and the loss of American jobs.