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The International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD), Geneva. 



Dec 23, 2004

After finishing the ninth round of its WTO membership talks at the 15 December
meeting of the Working Party on its accession, Vietnam is looking to complete
the negotiations in time for the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference in December
2005. Entry talks have been underway for ten years.


The 63 Members that are negotiating a membership package with the Southeast
Asian country used the meeting to review the first draft of the report that they
will submit to the General Council for approval by consensus at the end of the
accession process. Vietnam announced that it had signed six of the bilateral
market access deals (with Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Cuba, the EU, and Singapore)
that play a crucial though controversial role in ensuring that Members agree to
an applicant's accession, and was close to concluding another seven. Other
members of the Working Party on the Accession of Vietnam include the US, Canada,
Japan, India, Switzerland, and Australia.


Members applaud Vietnam's efforts; say more needs to be done
Vietnam reported on how it was bringing its trade regime into line with WTO law,
and said that it would speed up the passage of pending WTO-related legislation
in 2005. Members praised it for its "hard work," paying particular attention to
the bilateral market access negotiations. Members unanimously reiterated that
they would like to see Vietnam join the WTO as soon as possible.


Members did have some criticisms of Vietnamese policy. Several pointed to
discrimination between domestic and foreign investors in the country's
investment regime -- even though, as pointed out by some observers, investment
is not a subject of WTO negotiations -- and asked for a list of sectors in which
investment was prohibited. Others contended that Vietnamese law discriminated
between domestic and foreign enterprises with regard to trading rights, saying
that it was in violation of WTO provisions on national treatment and
quantitative restrictions.


Civil society: Bilateral market access talks unfair, dangerous
Civil society organisations have criticised the way Vietnam's accession talks
have proceeded thus far, arguing that it is being forced to accept commitments
that go above and beyond the requirements of WTO rules, and thus runs the risk
of liberalising its economy faster than may be desirable from a developmental
standpoint. Oxfam researchers Duncan Green and Le Kim Dung have described the
bilateral market access negotiations as "a form of political tag wrestling in
which the world's mightiest economies take it in turns to climb into the ring
and squeeze yet more concessions, with scant regard to an applicant's
development needs." They point out that Vietnam has been compelled to accept a
far higher level of liberalisation in farm products than any of its neighbouring
WTO Member countries. Green and Le warn that as part of its accession process,
Members might try to make Vietnam multilateralise several provisions of its
"heavily 'WTO-plus'" bilateral free trade agreement with the US, including those
on market access and intellectual property rights.


Indeed, in the accession talks, some Members have seemed less than willing to
accord Vietnam the special and differential treatment ordinarily due to
developing countries on some aspects of its potential future WTO commitments.
Though one developing country Member of the Working Party argued that Vietnam
should be entitled to special and differential treatment on subsidies, several
other Members wanted it to implement the Subsidies Agreement upon accession.
Vietnam has already dropped its request for a gradual implementation of the WTO
Agreement on Sanitary and Phytosanitary (SPS) Measures, and has agreed to comply
with it from the date of its accession.


The date for the next meeting of the Working Party has not been set, but is
likely to be in the first half of 2005.



An applicant for WTO Membership must first describe all of its WTO-related trade
and economic policies to the Working Party set up for its accession. Members of
the Working Party -- which will subsequently vote on the applicant's accession
in the General Council -- may then ask it to engage in bilateral negotiations on
market access. Commitments made in these bilateral talks must be extended
multilaterally to all WTO Members as part of the applicant's 'accession
package.' The tiny Pacific island of Vanuatu completed accession talks in 1999
but turned down the WTO's offer of Membership, judging the high cost of its
terms of accession -- including full and immediate compliance with WTO
disciplines on intellectual property rights -- to exceed any likely benefits.