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Vietnam to Begin WTO Negotiations with New Zealand, Japan Tomorrow
 
Vietnam will start a new round of bilateral negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) with New Zealand and Japan on Thursday.
 
During a two-day talk between Vietnam and New Zealand to be held in Hanoi, the most important interest of New Zealand is whether Vietnam will open up its market for the island nation's milk, which makes up 60-70% of its exports to Vietnam, said a Vietnamese official.
 
"Previously, Vietnam wanted to impose tariff quotas on milk imports from New Zealand, but we have decided to turn down the plan," he said, adding that the changed policy will possibly facilitate the upcoming negotiations.
 
In a visit to Vietnam last July, New Zealand's Foreign Minister Phil Goff confirmed support to Vietnam's bid to join the global trade body and willingness to take flexible attitude in the two country's bilateral talks.
 

Currently, Vietnam imports mainly milk, woodworks, and leather from New Zealand, while its exports to the island country are footwear, pottery and porcelain, and textiles.
 

Vietnam's exports to New Zealand last year were only $25 million, making up a very small part in its $17-billion total import turnover. Two-way trade between Vietnam and New Zealand still remains limited and New Zealand is only the 35th largest trade partner of the Southeast Asian country.
 

Also on February 24, Vietnam and Japan will hold a new bilateral negotiation round in Geneva on the former's bid to the WTO.
 

"The talk is scheduled to last only one day and focuses on services. The two sides are expected to hold another negotiation in Hanoi next month," said Chief of Economic Department of the Japanese Embassy in Vietnam Fukahori.      
 

Meanwhile, Vietnam will also negotiate with other six countries of Canada, Australia, India, Ireland, Colombia and Switzerland in Geneva till the end of this week, said a member of the Vietnamese negotiation delegation.
 
So far, Vietnam has completed six bilateral deals with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, the European Union and Singapore. It still has to complete talks with 21 more partners, including the US and Japan.
 
The tenth round of multilateral negotiations on Vietnam's WTO entry is set to take place in April. (Youth Feb 23 p1, Labor Feb 23 p3) 
 

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US Official Urges Legal Improvement in Vietnam to Facilitate WTO Negotiations
 

Vietnam needs to complete its law system with clear and transparent processes and criteria in its negotiations with the US on the Southeast Asian country's entry to the World Trade Organization (WTO), said President of the US-Vietnam Trade Council (USVTC) Virginia Foote.
 

"This is one commitment that any member state of the World Trade Organization (WTO) has to make," said Ms Foote, who is also executive vice president of the US-ASEAN Business Council, with Vietnamese newspapers when she arrived in Hanoi recently to discuss the itinerary of Vietnam's WTO integration negotiations with the US.
 

"It is normal for the US to demand a lot from partners during their negotiations to enter the WTO," Ms. Foote said. "Especially, the US expects that Vietnam will make further commitments in foreign investment and international trade rights."
 
The president forecast that the US and Vietnam will likely face difficulties when discussing the opening of the latter's market to foreign products and services. "But I believe that everything will go smoothly," she said.
 
According to Ms. Foote, Vietnam needs to complete a fair amount of work and make some important decisions in order to become a WTO member in late 2005 as targeted.
 
"I completely believe that Vietnam can do it. The target time is identified as the WTO ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December this year. To achieve the goal, Vietnam has to close negotiations with the US some months ahead of the conference," she said.
 
Regarding the three-year implementation of the Vietnam-U.S. Bilateral Trade Agreement (BTA), Ms. Footes, who was one outstanding American figure contributing to the signing of the BTA five years ago, said that statistics of current US investment into Vietnam did not reflect actual figures which were much higher.
 
The US investment flow into Vietnam has a bright future, she said. Meanwhile, "the commitments Vietnam offers during the WTO entry process are important to US companies keen on doing business in the country," she said.
 
Vietnam attracted 26 US investment projects with total registered investment capital of $65.7 million in the whole 2004, bringing the total number of US projects and capital to 211 and $1.27 billion, respectively, in the Southeast Asian country.
 

According to her, the Vietnam-US bilateral relationship has flourished, thus creating a strong foundation for the future. "The bilateral relationship has gained solid developments step-by-step, from the establishment of diplomatic ties to economic cooperation," she said.
 
This year is also of great importance as its marks ten years of diplomatic ties between the two countries and five years since the signing of the BTA, she said, adding that both sides are currently preparing for upcoming visits for the occasions.
 

Ms. Foote is scheduled to have a meeting today in Hanoi with US investors doing business in Vietnam. (Young People Feb 23 p4, Pioneer Feb 23 p4) 
 
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US Congressmen Visit Vietnam
 

Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee's Subcommittee on Military Personnel John McHugh is leading a delegation of the US' House of Representatives to Vietnam on February 22-23 as part of their visit to the Southeast Asian country and Laos.
 

The trip aims to discuss issues relating to the relations between the two countries, especially those relating to US Missing-in-Actions (MIAs).
 
During their staying in Vietnam, the guests held working sessions with Chairman of the National Assembly's Committee for External Relations Vu Mao, Deputy Foreign Minister Le Bang and Deputy Defense Minister Nguyen Huy Hieu.
 
The two sides noted with satisfaction the progress recorded in Vietnam-US bilateral relations. The relations between the two countries over the past 10 years of normalization have been beneficial to both sides, economically, commercially and culturally, they said, citing the all-round cooperation in humanitarian issues, education and training, drug control, fighting transnational crimes, terrorism and military exchanges.
 
Some 3.14 million Americans served in Vietnam during the Vietnam War and over 58,000 were killed with 1,855 still unaccounted for. Almost all US personnel lost in North Vietnam were reportedly aircrew members on bombing missions during the war.
 

Vietnam has handed over 830 sets of missing American servicemen's remains to the US since 1973. (Youth Feb 23 p16, The People Feb 23 p1) 
 
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Vietnam Confirms Techno Transfer Cap of Seven Years
 
The long dispute over technology transfer in Vietnam has got an end as the government of the country       promulgated Decree 11 stipulating that technology owners must transfer it to the Vietnamese side within seven years.
 
Rejecting demands by foreign businesses, the Vietnamese Government has decided to cap the maximum duration of instalment payments under a technology transfer contract at seven years. It may be 10 years in certain vaguely-defined cases where the technology is treated as 'high-tech'.
 
The move follows a long dispute between foreign investors and the Ministry of Science and Technology over the time limit for technology transfer.
 
The decree also seems to make no differentiation between 'technology transfer' - meaning 'sell definitely' - and 'licensing', meaning 'allowing to use for a limited time'. In both cases, the owners must sell the technology to the Vietnamese side within seven years.
 
Fred Burke, Lawyer at Baker & Mc Kenzie, representing the Intellectual Property Sub-Group at the Vietnam Business Forum, has sounded a warning. He said that if no improvement was made regarding the time limit for technology transfer, it would dissuade technology flows into Vietnam.
 
But the ministry pointed out that with the regulations on technology being stipulated in the Civil Code, a government decree could barely contradict that.
 

Nevertheless, the decree has introduced some significant reforms in technology transfer. According to law firm Phillips Fox, changes can be seen in three main areas.
 
Firstly, all limits on technology transfer fees are abolished in the case of private companies. Previously, Decree 45 capped fees at 8% of turnover, or 30% of profits after-tax, or 10% of total invested capital (these maximums applied to technologies in the 'high-tech' category where the majority of products were exported; lower caps applied to standard technologies).
 
Secondly, limits on technology transfer fees are relaxed for State-related entities, like a joint venture with a State-owned enterprise.
 
Thirdly, corporate income tax waivers and rebates are introduced.  
 
The decree enshrines the following significant reforms of the last few years. In July 2002, the requirement for approval of technology transfer contracts was replaced with registration. In April 2003, the 20% cap applicable to capital contribution in the form of technology transfer for foreign-invested projects was abolished.
 
The decree was on the drafting board for a long time when 31 drafts were presented. (VietNamNet Feb 22, Vietnam Banking Times Feb 18 p2) 
 
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Vietnam Businesses to Survey US Market
 

The Ho Chi Minh City branch of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) will send a businesses delegation to survey the United States market and take part in the international Plastic Fair there.
 
"The trip is one of VCCI's main programs to boost trade between Vietnam and US," said Nguyen Thi Lan Huong, head of the branch's Ho Chi Minh City Women Entrepreneurs Council.
 

The delegation will travel to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Washington D.C and New York, where the fair kicks off in June, Huong said.
 
The group will also meet overseas Vietnamese businesses to learn about their success and improve their own competitiveness in the global market.
 
The International Plastic Fair will take place at the Jacob Convention Center in New York on June 13-15 and attract some 1,750 companies and some 40,000 visitors. (Saigon Times Daily Feb 22 p3)   
 
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Vietnam's Wooden Furniture Exports to US Expected to Rise
 
Vietnam has a golden chance to increase wooden furniture exports to the US as demand for the products in the lucrative market is rising substantially, the Vietnam Trade Office in the US said February 26.
 
It's time for Vietnam's woodwork industry to boost exports to the US as each year wooden furniture imports to the American market reach $16 billion, said the trade office, adding that more US importers are placing very large orders from Vietnamese firms, according to the trade office.
 
The trade office also said that the US is imposing anti-dumping tariffs on wooden bedroom furniture imports from China, while imports from other countries are dropping, creating more opportunities for Vietnamese exporters.
 
Nguyen Phi Tien, director of the Tien Trien Company Ltd in the Southern province of Binh Duong, said that his company signed seven contracts to export wood furniture to the US. Those contracts will total $75 million. "Since December, we have received many foreign businessmen who came to visit our wood furniture manufacturing workshops. I have also flown to the US many times myself to discuss export contracts with our partners there," Tien added.
 
"Vietnam's exports to the market will likely surge significantly in the near future and domestic exporters of wood furniture expect to make a killing this year with many valuable export contracts already signed," the office said.
 
Tran Quoc Manh, vice president of the Ho Chi Minh City Wood Art Association, said the country now has 1,200 enterprises involved in wood processing. This year these enterprises expect to process about 2 million cu.m of raw wood. A majority of finished products will be exported, with earnings targeted at $1.5 billion, a 50% increase on 2004's figure.
 
"The domestic wood industry's $1.5 billion export goal is quite achievable as most of the wood processing enterprises have already signed major export contracts that are expected to create enough employment for their workers until mid-2005," Manh said.
 
Pham Phuc Quynh, director of Khai Vy Company Ltd in Ho Chi Minh City, said the company has set a target of exporting over $50 million worth of wood products this year, up by 30% from last year. "Unlike the Tien Trien Company, a majority of our wood products will go to the European market because it has been our traditional market for ten years," Quynh said.
 
"Last year, we exported a total of $36 million, however export value from the US market accounts for around 20%," he said.
 
Ngo Thi Hong Thu, marketing director of the Truong Thanh Company in Binh Duong province, revealed that the company's export value this year is estimated to reach at $26 million, about $6 million higher than last year's figure. "So far we have signed 60% of the export contracts offered by partners because we are afraid of not manufacturing enough products," Thu said.
 
"To solve this problem, the company has decided to build a $2 million wood processing plant in Laos in addition to our current seven workshops in Vietnam," she said. The new plant will "utilize the neighboring country's available raw wood material and human resources."
 
Manh said that domestic wood processing enterprises have maintained rapid growth thanks to greater production capacity and product promotion. And growth has occurred despite increasingly competitive pressure from major exporters such as China.
 
The director of Tien Trien Company said his company was equipped with five modern European wood processing lines with total capacity of 1,000 containers of wood products. "The Tien Trien Company is one of only a few companies that utilizes foreign experts to manage production and promote company products," Tien said. The company could export more than $10 million in 2004 even though it was just put into operation in late 2003.
 
Quynh of the Khai Vy Company said that in addition to traditional pure wood products such as interior and outdoor wood furniture, the company has also invested in manufacturing many wood products that are decorated with other materials including metal, cloth and leather.
 
"The products of this kind are more attractive to European customers," he said. So they have a value between 10 and 15% higher on the European market than those of pure wood." "Currently, the company can export around 40 containers of these products among nearly 500 containers exported a month from its three plants in Ho Chi Minh City and Binh Dinh," Quynh said.
 
The country's total export turnover of wood products increased from approximately $140 million in 1996 to over $219.3 million in 2000, with France topping the list of buyers at 29%, followed by the UK and Italy. In 2004, the country exported $1.05 billion, up 85.9% from 2003.
 
In the first two months of this year, wood enterprises achieved $165 million in export value, an increase of 28.6% over the same period last year. (Thanh Nien Daily Feb 23, VNS) 
  
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Vietnam Starts Building Third Buddhist Institute
 
Vietnam commenced construction of the country's third Buddhist institute on February 27 in Hanoi's outlying district of Soc Son.
 
The Vietnam Buddhist Institute will include a great pagoda, a 10,000-seat hall and smaller lecture halls, dormitories, a guesthouse, a car park, a stadium and gardens, covering 11 ha of land.
 
Once completed, the VND200 billion ($12.7 million) institute will replace the Hanoi institute in the inner city and will be able to enroll around 2,000 trainees a year.
 
The institute will help improve the training of monks and nuns as well as the research and cooperation with Buddhist universities at home and abroad, said Most Venerable Thich Thanh Tu, Vice Chairman of the Executive Council of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha and Director of the Vietnam Buddhist Institute.
 
Vietnam is also expected to build another Buddhist high school in the southwestern region in the future.
 
The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), the official representative of all Buddhist sects in Vietnam, now has three Buddhist institutes in Hanoi, the central city of Hue and Ho Chi Minh City, with the enrolment of around 1,000 monks and nuns; five colleges with more than 500 students and 30 high schools with more than 3,700 trainees. The VBS also holds regular training courses at various levels for monks in many localities with the support of their local authorities.
 
Moreover, hundreds of monks and nuns are taking courses at Buddhist institutes in 10 countries and territories, including India with some 200 Vietnamese students. These graduates, with many holding M.A and Ph.D degrees, are holding important posts at the VBS and also lecture at Buddhist schools.
 
Buddhism is the largest of the six religions that are officially recognized in Vietnam. It has 40,000 monks and nuns, around 10 million Buddhist followers, and 14,500 places of worship across the country, according to the VBS. (The People Feb 28 p8, Young People Feb 28 p2, Pioneer Feb 28 p2) 
 
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Agent Orange Hearing against US Firms Opens Today
 
A New York court will begin hearing a lawsuit brought by nearly 100 Vietnamese seeking compensation from US chemical manufacturers as victims of Agent Orange/Dioxin on February 28.
 
After several times of having been delayed, the arguments will be heard by Judge Jack B. Weinstein to establish whether the case will go to court.
 
Lawyers for the Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange who filed the lawsuit against 37 American chemical producers, the largest of which are Dow Chemical and Monsanto, and defendant lawyers will present and hand in all documents and papers related to the case to support their arguments.
 
Prof. Phan Thi Phi Phi representing the 100 victims will participate in the proceedings.
 
Previously, Mrs. Phi came to US universities to speak first hand about the hardships of Vietnamese victims in an effort to call for support from the US public.
 
According to a source from Thanh Nien (Young People) daily newspaper, American television networks have been banned from attending the proceedings while reporters from newspapers and other mass media are allowed.
 
In related news, an international conference about Agent Orange/Dioxin victims will be held in Paris on March 11-12. The Vietnamese delegation will be comprised of Prof. Vo Quy, Prof. Luu Van Dat - member of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL), and Prof. Phan Thi Phi Phi.
 
On January 31, 2004, three Vietnamese Agent Orange victims and the Vietnamese Agent Orange Victims' Association filed the lawsuit against 37 US chemical firms which produced Agent Orange, a toxic defoliant sprayed by U.S. troops during the war in Vietnam.
 
The first pre-trial hearing of the case was held on March 18, 2004.
 
From 1961 to 1971, US troops sprayed more than 80 million liters of defoliants (of which 61% was Agent Orange) and nearly 400 kilograms of dioxin manufactured by the chemical producers over Vietnamese land and forests.
 
As many as 4.8 million Vietnamese people were exposed to toxic chemicals, of whom three million were affected by Agent Orange, a herbicide that contains dioxin, one of the most toxic substances known to man. (Young People Feb 28 p1, Youth Feb 28 p1) 
 
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US to Help Vietnam Fight against HIV/AIDS
 

The Government of United States and the Hanoi School of Public Health will today signed a cooperative agreement under which the US side will help Vietnam cope with HIV/AIDS epidemic.
 
The five-year project focuses on HIV/AIDS management training, the development of data management systems and development of strategic plans for HIV/AIDS prevention activities for the school.
 
The US government will provide $300,000 for the first year of the project, which is part of the US President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief to provide $15 billion to 15 key countries including Vietnam to fight the spread of AIDS.
 
Under the plan, the US will grant Vietnam $25 million in its fiscal year of 2005 to help the country prevent HIV/AIDS, the amount is much bigger than that of $18 million in 2004.
 
To date, Vietnam has found 90,600 people infected with HIV/AIDS, according to the government's statistics in January. Of those, 14,500 have developed AIDS and 8,400 have died of HIVS. (US Embassy Press Release Feb 23, GSO Jan) 
 
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Vietnam Proposed Setting up Foreign Securities Trading Board
 
Vietnam's stock markets should introduce a foreign trading board to help foreign investors get further access to the bourse as well as to create the liquidity for listed shares, a foreign investor proposed.
 
Kevin Snowball, director of PXP Vietnam Asset Management Ltd., which now manages the PXP Vietnam Fund, said the foreign ownership limit of 30% at AGF, BT6, GIL, REE, SAV, TMS and TRI has already reached.
 
These stocks now suffer from a severe lack of liquidity because existing foreign shareholders do not want to sell their holdings at the market price. Meanwhile, the current trading band is so small, at 5%, preventing foreigners from offering high price for shares owned by other foreigners, he said.
 
"I think a foreign trading board is the solution for the situation," Snowball said.
 
Such a mechanism, which can be achieved through the creation of separate "stock market" for share owned by foreigners, will enable prices offered by foreign investors to move independently from those held by domestic investors, he said.
 
It is possible the introduction of foreign trading board will initially result in the shares owned by foreigners trading at a significantly higher price than those owned by domestic investors, due to their relative scarcity, he said.
 
However, the possible scarcity will ease when the foreign ownership limit at listed firms is lifted to 49%. In the meantime, the introduction of the foreign trading board will give domestic investors an insight into the price that foreign investors are likely to be willing to pay for addition shares, he said. (Saigon Times Daily Feb 22 p2)