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WTO negotiations hit by lagging legal reform

Legal reform mandatory for membership of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) is putting pressure on
Vietnam 's bid to make the cut for the world's largest trading body by 2005. Vietnam recently sent its third revision of the initial offer for opening commodity and service markets to the WTO Working Party, the group that negotiates with Vietnam in its membership bid. A legal development agenda has been finalised as part of the country's efforts to join the WTO soon.

"One of the requirements for countries joining the WTO is the development of their legal systems so as to adapt to WTO rules," said Nguyen Van Long, director general of the Office of National Committee for International Economic Integration (IEC).

Lessons drawn from recent WTO membership winners show that how soon a country can join the organisation depends very much on how seriously it implements the action plans and legal development agendas.

Economist Le Dang Doanh, advisor to the Minister of Planning and Investment, said that under the prepared legal development agenda, the Ministry of Justice had reviewed 265 legal documents. Ninety-four laws, including those need to be amended or newly constructed, have been put on the National Assembly's agenda.

But Doanh said this amount of documentation exceeded the supreme legislative body's processing capacity. The National Assembly is this year expected to adopt around 20 laws, inclusive of those amended and newly developed, representing a significant improvement thanks to the body's new, more efficient working approach. "Besides the quantity, the quality is also a challenge," Doanh said.

Doanh also expressed concern about the progress of ongoing legal reforms. " Vietnam has introduced the Enterprises Law, a law on state-owned enterprises and a law on cooperatives. But when it will have a universal law for all enterprises has not been defined. Similarly, it is unclear when Vietnam will have a common law for domestic and foreign companies like in many other countries," Doanh said.

"Thus preparatory and implementation work requires the country's strong determination and a new approach." Vietnam is attempting to join the WTO before the Doha Round finishes early in 2005