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Vietnam to Join WTO Before 2006 despite Difficulties, Trade Minister


Vietnam can complete negotiations on its accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO) to officially join in the body before 2006 although it is facing a number of obstacles, said the country's Minister of Trade Truong Dinh Tuyen.


The official expressed his confidence on the issue for the first time this year in an interview with Lao Dong (Labor) newspaper.


Vietnam has to finish at least two more multilateral negotiation rounds this year, the tenth in March and the eleventh in May or June, Tuyen said, adding that the nation must conclude bilateral talks with 21 WTO members including the US, China and Japan before July.


The upcoming talks are expected to be very complicated as each partner will set variety of requirements, which are based on their economic development, he said.


The most difficulty is, however, that the country should not negotiate by fair means or foul to get entry to the global commercial body, the official asserted.


It is unjust for Vietnam to accept a series of hard conditions set by WTO members in order to participate in the organization, he said. But the country will make great efforts to satisfy these countries, including the grant of Most Favored Nation (MFN), to push up its bid to join the global trade body while persuading its partners to delay other demands.


He also stressed fierce competition that can lead to the bankruptcy of many local firms when the country is admitted to the WTO. The whole economy, however, will benefit, he said.


Since last April, Vietnam has held bilateral negotiations with some 20 WTO member countries. It has completed talks with six, namely Cuba (on Jun 15, 2004), Chile (Aug 22, 2004), the EU (Oct 9, 2004), Argentina (Nov 12, 2004), Brazil (Nov 16, 2004) and Singapore (Nov 25, 2004).


The Southeast Asian nation applied to join the Geneva-based global trade body in 1995. Along with Vietnam, another 24 countries including Russia are also negotiating to participate in the WTO.


Vietnam has so far attended nine round of negotiations on its effort to join the organization. At the ninth round on December 8-17, 2004 in Geneva, the Vietnamese delegation had bilateral talks with 10 partners, namely Colombia, the US, New Zealand, Iceland, Switzerland, Canada, South Korea, Australia, Norway, and Paraguay. (Labor Tet Edition Feb 9-12)  


Vietnam Jails Three Anti-Government Central Highlanders


A court in Vietnam on January 25 sentenced three ethnic minority people in the country's central highlands 10 to 11 years in prison over anti-government activities since 2001.


The Gia Lai Province People's Court convicted Hlun, 37, Ksor Vung, 36, and Ksor Thup, 53 of organizing anti-government demonstrations and abetting other hill tribe members in the region to illegally flee to neighboring Cambodia since the outbreak of the violent protest in February 2001.


They were active members of the defunct anti-Vietnam organization FULRO and received money from an exile group in the United States to buy mobile phones used to receive instructions from abroad to instigate such crimes, the court also said.


Hlun was sentenced to 11 years in jail and the others 10 years.


At least 30 other central highlanders were sentenced in prison on the same charges in August and September and November last year. The exact number of criminals is not available.


Thousands of hill tribe people in the region (loosely known as Montagnards) have fled to Cambodia following massive anti-government protests in February 2001 and in April 2004. More than 1,000 of them were already granted asylum in the United States while another 750 are living in residential camps in Cambodia, according to international sources.


The Vietnamese government has repeatedly blamed Ksor Kok and his "Montagnard Foundation Inc." (MFI) in the US for instigating and masterminding such reactionary activities.


However, historians and sociologists say the root of the instability in the region is a lack of land for native ethnic minorities resulting from government policies to use a large area of fertile forestland for industrial crops and to allow many Kinh majority people to migrate into the region.


Hilltribe people account for a third of the region's 1.4-million population. They come from 35 different ethnic minority groups, including the Ede with 17.1%, Mnong 4.4%, Nung 3.8%, Tay 2.8%, and Gia Rai 2.8% and others 2.4%. Most of these people are now still trapped in poverty and are prone to being deceived by hostile forces to protest against the government and state.


In related development, Vietnam earlier this week reached a memo with Cambodia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to repatriate or resettle about the 750 Montagnards currently under UNHCR protection in Cambodia. (Young People Jan 26 p2)



Vietnam Reports Rampant Violations in Culture Sector Last Year


Unauthorized copies of multimedia discs and the trading of illegal cultural and information products were among the most common violations in Vietnam's culture sector in 2004, said inspectors.


The conclusion was announced followed series of inspections carried out last year in the country's culture and information sector, which includes multimedia, television, publishing, radio and many other areas.  


In a reviewing conference held in Danang city on January 24, inspectors reported 7,281 cases in which cultural products had violated trading regulations. Of the total cases, 31 had been transferred to the appropriate agency for criminal investigation.


Inspectors also seized more than one million illegal multimedia discs and other depraved and reactionary cultural products.


The acting chief inspector from the Ministry of Culture and Information Phan An Sa said that authorities seemed to lack the appropriate methods to crackdown on the illegal activities in the sector.  


The only solution for provincial inspection departments is to regularly inspect places, said Mr. Sa. But, even the regular check-ups are not enough to prevent further violations, he added.


The inspection campaigns, which were attempts to tackle the illegal activities in the culture and information sector, do not seem to be working, said Mr. Sa.


There are still many problem, which inspectors cannot easily solve, he added.  


For example, more TeleVision Receive Only (TVRO) satellite systems are being illegally imported and installed in the country.  About 35,000 unregistered TVRO devices are currently installed in homes, estimated Mr. Sa. With the devices, these homes are able to illegally receive foreign television channels for free, said the chief inspector. (Culture Jan 26 p2)


Additional Trade Official Arrested over Textile Quota Scam


A high-ranking trade official in Ho Chi Minh City has been arrested Monday following allegation about his involvement in last year's graft scandal which forced local textile companies to pay huge bribes to trade officials in order to secure buy huge bribes for export quotas to the US.


Nguyen Cuong, 50, who is deputy chief of the city's Industrial Park and Export Processing Zone Authority, held the position of the director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Trade before 2001. In his 10 years of working at the trade department, Cuong was in charge of managing import-export activities and distributing textile export quotas to the US to local companies.


He was supposedly part of a corruption ring, which controlled the Ministry of Trade's textile quota distribution system, acting as a go-between in quota bribery deals.


Several local textile firms had reported Cuong to police, providing detailed evidence of his involvement, according to police sources.


The corruption ring was unearthed in September last year. So far, 17 trade officials and textile businessmen, including former Deputy Minister of Trade Mai Van Dau and his son, have been in detention for alleged involvement in the quota scam.


Further investigations on the case are ongoing, police said.


Textiles are Vietnam's second-largest export earner after crude oil, with a large part of the income coming from exports to the US. (Labor & Society Jan 27 p10, Capital Security Jan 26 p4, Law Jan 26 p2)


US, Vietnamese Firms Set up $1.5-Bln Tourism JV


The US's Dye Vietnam Ltd. and Vietnam's Au Lac Co. signed a contract on January 26 in Hanoi to set up a tourism joint venture to tap Vietnam's tourism potentials, particularly the world heritage Halong Bay in the northern province of Quang Ninh.


The joint venture, called Halong Bay Joint Venture Ltd., has an investment capital of $1.5 billion and a legal capital of $882.45 million, with the US partner holding a 51% stake.


The contract is a result of the Former Vice President of the fallen Saigon Regime Nguyen Cao Ky's return to Vietnam last year and his subsequent calls for US investors to do business in Vietnam.


Accordingly, the joint venture will develop a tourism complex on an area of 250 hectares on Tuan Chau Island in Halong Bay, including the 36-hole world-class Andy Dye Golf Court, a 140-room hotel, 50 luxury villas, a man-made canal, a man-made beach, a helicopter pad and other marine tourism facilities.


Andy Dye, general director of Dye Vietnam Ltd., said the construction of a top-notch resort on Tuan Chau Island in Halong Bay would help attract big investors in Asia. Once they arrive in Vietnam, they surely find investment opportunities in the country, he said.


In Uong Bi Town in Quang Ninh province, Halong Bay Ltd. will build the Pine Mountain Golf Resort, which will consist of six 18-hole world-class golf courts, 300 detached houses, 200 apartments, offices and other facilities.


The joint venture also has a plan to build a five-star golf resort in the central coastal city of Nha Trang. The resort will include an 18-hole golf court and a 400-room hotel. It will also build entertainment facilities in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City. (Vietnam Economic Times Jan 27 p1, Young People Jan 27 p2)