EU Concludes Talks with Vietnam on WTO
9 October 2004
By Christina Toh-Pantin
HANOI (Reuters) - The European Union has concluded talks with Vietnam on its entry into the World Trade Organization, which the Southeast Asian country said it still aims to join by 2005.
Clinching a deal with the 25-member EU would give Vietnam a big push along the path to joining the WTO. But accession for one of Asia's fastest-growing economies requires bilateral talks with all 147 members of the Geneva-based trade watchdog.
Most have yet to conclude talks with Vietnam.
"I'm happy the EU is the first key partner to conclude WTO's negotiations with Vietnam," EU Trade Commissioner Pascal Lamy told reporters in Vietnam's capital Hanoi.
A bleary-eyed Vietnam Minister of Trade Truong Dinh Tuyen, who told a news briefing he had not slept in the past 48 hours because of the EU talks, sought Lamy's permission to smoke and proceeded to light up as he answered questions.
"We endeavor to access the WTO in 2005," he said, affirming a long-held goal for Vietnam.
Next year quotas on textiles and garments, the country's second-most valuable export earner, will end for all WTO members including big producer China.
Lamy, also at the briefing, seconded Tuyen's statement, saying that based on prior applicants, it takes between one year and 18 months from concluding the first key bilateral pact to effective accession.
Vietnam has concluded WTO talks with Cuba. It began the process to join the trade body in 1995.
Talks with the EU were nearly derailed by disagreement over market access in key sectors including telecommunications, transport and finance, and Lamy acknowledged the EU didn't get all it wanted.
COMPARABLE WITH CHINA
"In services, it was very difficult. I encountered obstinacy on the part of Mr. Tuyen," he said.
The EU accepted Vietnam's 30 percent ceiling on foreign investment in companies, and limits on foreign stakes in the telecoms sector. Lamy said that was "about comparable" to what China was granted five years ago.
Vietnam has also agreed to apply average tariffs of around 16 percent for industrial goods, 22 percent for fishery products and 24 percent for agricultural goods.
That tariff level compares with 22 percent for Cambodia and below 10 percent for China.
Lamy was in Vietnam attending an Asia-Europe summit of government leaders that concluded on Saturday.
The EU accounts for around 17 percent of Vietnam's overall trade, followed by the United States at 14 percent, Japan at 13 percent and China at 11 percent.
Total trade in goods between the 25 EU members and Vietnam totaled about 6.4 billion euros in 2003.
Talks with the United States scheduled for this month could prove difficult because Vietnam has handed bigger concessions to the Europeans than in the bilateral trade pact with the United States that has been in effect since December 2001.
The communist country also has to conclude talks with Japan and China. Tuyen said he had met his Chinese counterpart during the ASEM summit this week and that the two sides agreed to "try our best" to reach an early conclusion on WTO talks.