Vietnam set to become WTO's 150th member

(AFP) - Vietnam is set to become the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) after 20 years of market reforms that have made the communist ruled country one of Asia's fastest growing economies.

Hanoi hopes admission to the Geneva based club will further boost trade and investment for the Southeast Asian country of 84 million people whose emerging economy grew at over 8 percent last year, second in the region only to China, reports Trend.

"WTO membership will confer an international stamp of approval on Vietnam in the eyes of foreign investors and businessmen," said Vietnam expert Dr Carl Thayer of the Australian Defence Force Academy.

"The trade environment will now be subject to international rules and regulations that are widely understood outside Vietnam," he said. "Vietnam will be seen as a safer destination for capital."

Vietnam will later this month greet US President George W Bush and the leaders of China, Japan, Russia and the other members of the 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ( APEC) forum at a summit in Hanoi.

"WTO accession and hosting the APEC summit are both very important for Vietnam," said the UN Development Programme's chief economist in the country, Jonathan Pincus. "It's Vietnam's reemergence into the world community.

"It's finally rejoining the East Asia region as one of the dynamic economies and really taking its rightful place alongside its neighbours as an economy with tremendous promise."

Human rights groups have charged that the WTO admission and the APEC summit reward an authoritarian one-party regime that is seeking global economic integration, while business groups say it will bring rapid economic change.

WTO membership, which must be ratified by Vietnam's legislature to take effect, will secure export markets for Vietnamese products but also threaten tough competition at home for its often inefficient state-run enterprises.

Vietnam's formal admission, expected at a WTO meeting in Geneva on Tuesday, follows nearly 12 years of negotiations with other members, including former enemy the United States, with whom Vietnam signed a trade deal in May.

A Vietnamese delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem and including Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen left for Geneva on Sunday for Tuesday's meeting of the WTO's governing council.

Vietnam, a communist command economy after the end of the 'American War' in 1975 and the country's reunification the following year, launched its 'doi moi' (renewal) market reforms a decade later.

It has since emerged as a strong exporter of textiles, garments and footwear, the world's second-largest producer of rice and coffee and a major exporter of pepper, cashew, rubber and seafood.

"The Vietnamese economy has grown on average about seven percent a year for nearly 20 years now, which is a remarkable achievement," said Pincus.

"The economy is something like three times larger than it was at the beginning of the reform period."

Vietnam remains a poor country, where most people live of farming, and where factory jobs typically pay less than two dollars a day, but its rapid growth in recent years has made it an increasingly popular investment destination.

Investment bank Merill Lynch has named Vietnam its 'top buy' in Asia and said in a report last month that "the rate of change in Vietnam is accelerating beyond even our optimistic assessments."

Vietnam has passed scores of laws in recent months -- in areas such as investment and corporate law, accounting rules and intellectual property rights protection -- to bring its legislation into line with WTO rules.

Ironically Vietnam joins the WTO as the grouping is trying to salvage a global trade agreement to cut barriers to commerce that collapsed in July, five years after members started negotiations in the Qatari capital Doha.

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