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Vietnam to tighten control over pharmaceutical prices

2 March 2005

HANOI, March 2 (Xinhua) -- Vietnam will take drastic measures to control drug prices, including closely monitoring the prices and building a new law on pharmaceuticals, Vietnam News reported Wednesday.

The Ministry of Health has asked foreign and local pharmaceutical producers and traders not to increase drug prices without its permission. Those illegally hiking the prices will be strictly punished. To adjust the prices, they must inform the ministry in written form in advance.

Deputies of Vietnamese National Assembly (NA), at an ongoing NA session, have focused their discussion on a draft law that would tighten the government's control over drug prices. Under a bill, pharmaceutical makers and pharmacists will be required to compensate customers for any serious side effects caused by their products or for selling drugs without a prescription.

The bill, expected to be approved by the NA in mid-April, will also encourage producers to conduct more research in making pharmaceuticals, particularly ones used to treat sexually- transmitted diseases, and give priorities to production of locally- made drugs with quality similar to that of foreign products. Up to 60 pharmaceutical companies in Vietnam have recently asked for the ministry's permission to raise prices of their products, citing higher world prices of materials as a major reason.


WTO admission in 2005 might be unrealistic: Vietnamese minister

2 March 2005

HANOI, March 2 (AFP) - Vietnam might have to give up on its ambition to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO) later this year given that little progress has been made in recent negotiations, a report said

"We earlier expected the country to join the WTO this year but the current situation may make that unrealistic. Perhaps (it) will take place next year," Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen said in a Saigon Times daily report.

The communist country is under no formal pressure to join the WTO by the time the global trade body holds its next ministerial conference in Hong Kong in December but Hanoi had up to now made that date its target.

Tuyen's comments are the first such statement by a member of the Vietnamese government, a foreign analyst noted.

"In the last two weeks, lots of people have come to the conclusion that it would be difficult," the analyst said, asking not to be named. "Tuyen was the one saying all the time that admission in 2005 was possible."

So far, Vietnam has signed WTO agreements with the European Union, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba and Singapore. Those that remain to be convinced include the United States, Japan, China, Canada, New Zealand and Australia.

"Since the 9th round of negotiations ended, some countries have not been satisfied with Vietnam's commitments," Tuyen said in the report without elaborating.

During a two-day trade conference held in Hanoi earlier this week, the minister said Vietnam was asked to further open its market to foreign competition and accelerate legal reforms.

Dozens of rules, laws and decrees need to be modified by the National Assembly to improve the country's legal system but the timeframe could now be too short.

"Our view is to adopt a roadmap to open up the market gradually, not at once, so more talks will be needed," Tuyen said.

"If (Vietnam) immediately opens up such sectors as foods, oil product and steel, local companies cannot survive foreign competition." Vietnam started its transition to a market economy in 1986 but has long encountered criticism that it is moving too slow and in too limited a fashion to open up.

The country formally lodged its WTO application in January 1995. Its progress has since been hindered by factional fighting within the Communist Party, the 1997 Asian financial crisis and rampant corruption.

Actual negotiations did not start until 2002.

The problem for Vietnam might be how it can take on board its dialogue partners' requests in such a short period of time, said Adam Sitkoff, executive director of the American chamber of commerce (Amcham) in

"Amcham would like to see Vietnam join WTO as quickly as possible but there are many countries Vietnam has to conclude its negotiations with, including major trading partners and every country don't ask the
same things," Sitkoff said.

Analysts noted that candidates for WTO membership are now also vetted more carefully since China's accession in 2001 given complaints that Beijing has failed to deliver on many of the reforms the governement
had promised.

"Any country joining WTO after China has found it a bit more difficult. Everyone wants to see legislation passed to prove that the candidate can implement what it promised," Sitkoff said. Professor Le Dang Doanh, an economic advisor to Prime Minister Phan Van Khai, echoed that view.

Since the accession of China, "the United States' requests are higher," he said, adding the government should assess very carefully when accession would be best for Vietnam and that the 2005 target would not be easy.


WTO admission by year-end seen unlikely: Vietnam's Ministry

www.chinaview.cn 2005-03-02

   HANOI, Mar. 2 (Xinhuanet) -- The World Trade Organization (WTO) talks have proved to be extremely tough for Vietnam and might take more time than expected, Vietnam's local newspaper Saigon Times reported Wednesday.

   Given the progress that has been made in the negotiation process, the country can hardly join the global trading system at a WTO ministerial meeting in Chinese Hong Kong late this year, the report quoted Truong Dinh Tuyen, the Trade Minister as saying.

   The 10th round of multilateral talks is scheduled for this month and the ministry has already received question-naires from partner countries, including the United States, he noted.

   A number of partner countries are not yet pleased with what Vietnam has offered since the 9th round. They demanded Vietnam to further open up its market to foreign competition and make more legal changes to adapt itself to international norms.

   Other countries have asked Vietnam to open up import-export operations to foreign companies, drop a ban on tobacco and secondhand automobile imports, and revise down special consumptiontax on these items.

   Vietnam has also been asked to lift import tariffs on information technology products, chemicals and medical equipment, among others.

   The minister described these demands as unacceptable under the country's current circumstances by saying that Vietnam's view is to adopt a roadmap to open up the market gradually, not at once, so more talks will be needed.

   "We earlier expected the country to join the WTO late this yearbut the current situation can make it unrealistic. Perhaps, the country's WTO admission will take place next year," he said.

   "If Vietnam immediately opens up such sectors as food, oil products and steel, local companies cannot survive foreign competition," the minister added.


Agent Orange groups defend Vietnam 'warcrime' charges


Some of the largest chemicals groups in the world have defended themselves in court against charges they committed war crimes by supplying the US with Agent Orange during the Vietnam war.

Lawyers for companies including Dow Chemical and Monsanto were responding to a lawsuit that claims up to four million Vietnamese suffered dioxin poisoning from the chemical. Agent Orange, which it is claimed caused birth defects and cancer after seeping into the food chain, was dumped by US warplanes on Vietnamese forests between 1962 and 1971 to destroy sources of food and water used by the Vietcong.
More than 30 companies are named in the suit, which is seeking class action status. Lawyers for the companies are asking a district judge in Brooklyn, New York, to dismiss the claim. The case is regarded as a pivotal test of the reach of the US legal system as it considers the power of the president to authorise the use of hazardous materials during war. The state department lawyers have warned the case threatens the right of the president to go to war at all. It said that if the plaintiffs' case was successful, it could "open the courthouse doors of the American legal system for former enemy nationals and soldiers claiming to have been harmed by the US armed forces during war."
John Moore, one of the lawyers for the Vietnamese, said the chemical companies should be held accountable. "We are only suing the chemical companies. We can't sue the government as they are immune, unfortunately. They should be called to task as well."
He said the companies knew that Agent Orange was highly poisonous but continued to make it for profit. The companies argue they only produced the chemical following US government specifications and that there has never been a proven connection between the defoliant and the health problems.
If the lawsuit is successful, billion of dollars could be awarded towards an environmental clean-up and in compensation to the victims. Judge Jack Weinstein is expected to issue a written decision in the next few
weeks. Andrew Frey, a lawyer for Dow, said: "We think it is up to the US government to decide whether what it did was wrongful and whether it should pay restitution. The court should not be second guessing the president's decisions, which were made after studying the human health consequences and as a military
judgment and very likely saved a lot more lives than it injured."
He added that international laws in the 1960s did not recognise corporate liability. However, the plaintiffs have cited precedents from the years after the Second World War when makers of the gas used in Nazi death camps were convicted of war crimes.
Judge Weinstein said: "The fact that all power was centralised under Hitler did not permit all people operating under his orders to violate international law." However, he was skeptical about the plaintiffs' claims that the use of Agent Orange did indeed violate international law, saying it was far from clear whether agreements barring weapons such as poison gas applied to the case. In 1984, seven US chemical companies, including Dow and Monsanto, paid $180m to keep a US veterans' class action out of court.


Vietnam confident of winning Agent Orange case

Mar 2, 2005

HANOI (dpa) - Officials with Vietnam's Agent Orange Victims Association said they were confident a lawsuit scheduled to begin in New York Monday would be a success.
The general secretary and vice president of the organisation, Tran Xuan Thu, said the scientific evidence for a link between the chemical defoliant sprayed during the Vietnam War and a variety of health complaints was strong.
"I believe that we will win. We are quite confident with the scientific evidence we have and we hope the US court will make a fair decision," he said. The civil suit filed last year on behalf of 27 Vietnamese seeks damages from 37 companies that made and sold the chemicals that saturated Vietnam between 1961 and 1971. Those companies include Dow Chemical and Monsanto.
The US military sprayed more than 80 million litres of Agent Orange and other herbicides over southern Vietnam in order to destroy forests used by North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces. According to state run media more than three million people suffered from health complaints, including birth defects and cancers, as a result of the use of Agent Orange.
"We have 27 people, all from the areas affected by the chemical during the war and representing the 13 diseases caused by Dionxin as acknowledged by the US Academy of Sciences," Thu said.


Vietnam says U.S. rights report distorted

Wed Mar 2, 2005

HANOI (Reuters) - A U.S. report that has criticised Vietnam's human rights record included made up stories and presented a distorted picture, according to the Communist Party mouthpiece Nhan Dan daily.
"The report gave fabricated details about times, people's names and several cases to cheat those who do not have objective information about Vietnam," it said in a long editorial on Wednesday about the U.S. State Department's annual report on human rights.
The two countries have developed closer ties in recent years, after putting the Vietnam War behind them, but Washington regularly criticises Hanoi's human rights record and last year put Vietnam on a list of countries that abuse religious freedoms.
Washington, the editorial said, had a distorted view of human rights in Vietnam, which has been accused of abusing ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands, many of whom are Christian.
Vietnam's "severe violations of religious freedom" have landed it among "Countries of Particular Concern", the State Department said. It said Vietnam restricted freedom of religion and the operation of religious
organisations other than those approved by the government.
"The government failed to issue a nationwide decree banning forced renunciations of faith, did not end the physical abuse of religious believers, continued to hold a significant number of religious prisoners, and although it permitted the re-opening of some churches closed in the Central Highlands in 2001, it refused
to allow the re-opening and registration of hundreds of others," the State Department said.
Some improvements in religious freedom were evident, it said. "Some religious leaders expressed cautious optimism about a new Ordinance on Religion that the Government released in November, and in December," it said in the report.
Hanoi says it respects freedom of religion.
Vietnam was also cited for serious human rights abuses having to do with freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of assembly, and freedom of association.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Le Dung called the report biased and said in a statement: "We absolutely reject these wrongful assessments". Trade between the two countries has been flourishing and the two countries have cooperated on anti-terrorism, narcotics eradication, health and defence issues.


Human Rights: Examining ourselves, too

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Around the world, the human rights picture is mixed. As a State Department official observed in releasing an annual human rights report, real advances have been made in Ukraine, Georgia and many other places. But more needs to be done globally to ensure fair treatment under the law, freedom from torture and an end
to trafficking of people for sexual exploitation.

Indeed, human rights deserve full protection, in this country as well as elsewhere.

The State Department's review, required by Congress for decades, provides a real service, highlighting in a fair manner the shortcomings and successes in 196 countries. It's no wonder, then, that countries with guilty consciences often react harshly. Vietnam and China, for instance, quickly rejected the latest criticisms.

In a briefing Monday, a department spokesman acknowledged that the United States' record isn't perfect, but said it wouldn't be appropriate to assess the government's own performance. That's fair enough, but we wonder about the process for addressing American shortcomings.

A federal judge has just ruled that an American citizen cannot be held indefinitely as an "enemy combatant" without charges. U.S. forces haven't consistently lived up to international expectations that the Red Cross can check on detainees' treatment. The United States apparently has handed over suspects to some of the same countries the report cited for torture.

It's valuable to criticize others' abuses. But we also need to pay much more careful attention to our own performance.