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Vietnam Pushes for WTO Membership
Cyclo carrying tourist around Hanoi
Regional competition is pushing Vietnam to join

Vietnam's plan to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) has received a boost from one of its biggest trading partners, the European Union (EU).

The support comes after the country modified its proposals for membership.

European Commission's trade director Antonio Parenti says the new offer is more realistic and has a greater chance of winning acceptance from Vietnam's trading partners.

The changes relate to the level of trading tariffs, which have been lowered, and the degree to which Communist Vietnam is opening up its economy.

Vietnam is spurred on by regional competition, not least by China's recent WTO entry, and the fact that its poorer neighbour Cambodia is expected to join next year.

The EU says the offer on the table shows that Hanoi is now ready to enter serious negotiations.

Mixed blessing

According to the European negotiators, Vietnam's original proposal would have opened up the services sector at a lower rate, in contrast to assurances made almost a year ago to the United States under a bilateral trade agreement (BTA).

There are split views on the benefits of the BTA to Vietnam. Some, particularly the US, say it has given Vietnam a roadmap into the WTO.

Others believe Hanoi has set itself a difficult precedent.

It is thought that no other trading partner will now be willing to any accept trade agreements that offer less than what Vietnam has already agreed with the US.

Preparations

The team of European Commission officials is in Hanoi for negotiations on Vietnam's new WTO bid, which was made three weeks ago.

The talks will centre on the terms of Vietnam's entry to the WTO.

The officials are also preparing for a major round of multilateral talks in Geneva in December, the sixth round on Vietnam's efforts to join the WTO in the next three years.

The EU is looking for more ways to help Hanoi get the expertise required for the negotiations.

It has been training government officials and providing technical and research assistance.

It says Vietnam needs to do more to prepare for what will ultimately affect everybody in the country.

Vietnam is cautiously making the transition from a centrally planned economy to a player in the global free market.

The problem is that Vietnam appears to be both protectionist and liberal at the same time.