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Vietnam Can Join WTO Next December, Says WTO Official
 
Vietnam is likely to gain admission to the World Trade Organization (WTO) in December next year, said Mr. Seung Ho, Chairman of the Working Group for the country's accession to the global trade body.
 
The official made the forecast after Vietnam completed the ninth round of the WTO membership negotiations at the organization's headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland on December 17.
 
To this end, Vietnam needs to conduct four other rounds of talks, he said. The 10th round of multilateral negotiations is scheduled to take place next March 31, and the country must organize the three other rounds of talks before the end of autumn next year to allow the Working Group enough time to prepare for the country's official entry in December.
 
The ninth negotiation round, which started on December 9, focused on the Working Party's first draft report on Vietnam's WTO membership commitments, said negotiators.
 
During the talks, Vietnam presented its fresh progress in policy reforms and said it will speed up the issue of legal documents related to WTO within 2005. The country pledged an average tax rate on imports at about 18.5% with the tax levels on imported industrial and farm produce a bit higher, and committed to cut government subsidies on agro-products right after it becomes a WTO member.
 
Vietnam agreed to follow the WTO Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) and its Customs Valuation Agreement (CVA) right after becoming a member, with some technical assistance. It also asked for certain privileges and a transitional phase in several areas.
 
Most of the Working Group's member countries, however, demanded Vietnam carry out its WTO membership commitments and agreements immediately after joining the global trade body.
 
When discussing trade rights, one member of the Working Group said discrimination between domestic companies and foreign-invested firms in Vietnam still existed, urging that the country must fulfill its commitment to abolish this.
 
The Working Group also wanted Vietnam to provide more information about its state-owned enterprises (SOEs), including figures about its operations, products and roles in international trade.
 
Since the eighth negotiation round held in Geneva on June 9-18, Vietnam has reportedly carried out strong shake-ups in a series of its SOEs.
 
At the ninth round, the Vietnamese delegation had bilateral talks with 10 partners, namely Colombia, the US, New Zealand, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Australia, Norway, and Paraguay.
 
Besides multilateral talks and bilateral negotiations, the Vietnamese delegation held working sessions and met with the WTO Deputy General Director, Chairman of the Working Group Ho Seung, the Norwegian Ambassador and the head delegates of the US and China to the negotiations.
 
Luong Van Tu, Deputy Trade Minister and Secretary General of the National Committee for International Economic Cooperation led the Vietnamese delegation, which included 33 representatives from all ministries and branches.
 
To date, Vietnam has completed bilateral negotiations with six WTO members, namely, Cuba, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Singapore and the EU, one of four major partners in the negotiation process to the world trade body.
 
The country needs to finish similar talks next year with the remainder three major partners of the US, Canada and Japan and other nations including China, Colombia, New Zealand, Iceland, Switzerland, South Korea and Australia. (Young People Dec 21 p3, Labor Dec 21 p3, Laborer Dec 20 p2, VNA Dec 18)
 
Vietnam Advised to Boost Direct Exports to US: Seminar
 
Vietnamese exporters should directly export their products to the US and should find a representative in the market, advised experts who participated in a seminar on boosting exports to the US market held in Ho Chi Minh City on December 20.
 
The event was jointly organized by the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce & Industry (VCCI) and the EEF Enterprise Co.
 
According to EEF, the appointment of representatives in the US is very necessary as they will help Vietnamese firms to update the latest market information.
 
"If Vietnamese firms can provide after-sale service along with exporting their products, it will not difficult to gain a firm foothold in the US market," said EEF chairman Eddie Fordham, adding that local exporters should also keep punctual delivery.
 
Vietnam-US trade is soaring rapidly, reaching $5.08 billion in 2003 from $2.88 billion in 2002 and $1.05 billion in 2001, thanks to the BTA.
 
In the first nine months of this year, Vietnam earned $3.68 billion from exporting to the US, up 18.2% against the year-earlier period.
 
The US is now the largest export market for Vietnam and contributes around 19% to the country's total export revenues each year. (Vietnam Economic Times Dec 21 p4)
 

 
ADB Provides $96.4Mln Loans for Finance, Education & Poverty Projects
 
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the State Bank of Vietnam (SBV) on December 20 signed three loans totaling $96.4 million for the projects of education and financial sector reforms as well as poverty reduction in Vietnam.
 
The first loan worth $55 million for the 'junior secondary education development project' is expected to help the country achieve universal quality secondary education by 2010.
 
The $80-million project will help the Ministry of Education and Training complete the introduction of the new curriculum and textbooks, as well as related in-service teacher's training, the bank's statement says.
 
The project will directly benefit about 366,000 students, of whom 266,000 are disadvantaged and 100,000 are school dropouts who return to class, as well as about 72,500 teachers and education administrators. It will also build junior secondary schools in 28 provinces in northern mountainous, central coastal, central highlands and southern regions.
 
The second loan of $35 million aims to support the Government's efforts to develop alternative channels of financial intermediation such as money and capital markets, insurance, and leasing.
 
The last of ADB loans costing $6.4 million will assist the policy framework of the Poverty Reduction Support Credit program which will strengthen Vietnam's reform program of shifting to a market economy, financial and banking reform and developing the private sector.
 
Since it resumed operations with Vietnam in 1993 to June 2004, ADB provided 44 loans to the Southeast Asian country amounting to $2.6 billion and 148 technical assistance grants totaling $101.2 million. (The People Dec 21 p2, Labor Dec 21 p3, Youth Dec 21 p16, Vietnam Economic Times Dec 21 p1, News Dec 20 p8) 

Saigon Port Handles over 11Mln Tons of Cargo
 
Saigon Port, the largest port in Vietnam, handled over 11 million tons of cargo as of December 20, representing an on-year decrease of 0.9% and fulfilling 94% of the target set for the whole year.
 
Imports via the southern port stood at over 4.44 million tons in the period, down 9.1% on year, exports at nearly 2.26 million tons, up 4%, and domestic goods at nearly 4.44 million tons, up 6.2% year on year.
 
The port, located in Ho Chi Minh City, has so far this year serviced 2,322 ships, of which 1,293 carried imported goods and 1,029 carried exports.
 
Khanh Hoi Stevedoring Enterprise handled over nearly 4.64 million tons of the total, Tan Thuan Enterprise over 2.96 million tons, Nha Rong Enterprise over 1.5 million tons, Can Tho Enterprise 1.04 million tons, and Tan Thuan 2 Enterprise 884,192 tons. (Econet Dec 21 p16) 
  
 
Fatherland Front Offers Early Christmas Salutations
 
President of the Vietnam Fatherland Front's (VFF) Central Committee, Pham The Duyet, sent a letter of greeting to Vietnamese Christians world-wide last Friday in celebration of the upcoming Christmas holiday.
 
In his letter, Mr Duyet said he was delighted to see how Christians in Vietnam had always conserved and developed the tradition of patriotism and responded to patriotic emulation movements, and how they have undertaken difficult but important tasks for both their religion and the nation.
 
This year, he said, Christians as well as other religious adherents have made great contributions to the success of the VFF's sixth Congress by "promoting the strength of the nation, enhancing the role of the Front, increasing the pace of industrialization and modernization to create a nation of wealthy citizens, a prosperous nation, and a fair, democratic and civilized society."
 
He also called on the Vietnamese Christian population to unite in the great national unity and act in accordance with the Ordinance on Beliefs and Religions in order to make both religious and secular life better and further contribute to national development.
 
Unofficial statistics count some 6.5 million Christians in Vietnam, accounting for 8% of the country's population. The figure includes six million Catholics and 500,000 Protestants. (VNS Dec 20 p3, Vietnam Panorama)