Wednesday, November 8, 2006

GENEVA, Switzerland - The World Trade Organization has voted to accept Vietnam as a member. WTO accession is a long sought goal of Vietnam's government, which needs it to compete on an equal footing with other export-oriented economies.

Vietnam's journey toward World Trade Organization membership has taken more than decade of negotiations. But the effort paid off Tuesday, when the WTO accepted the Asian nation as its 150th member. Vietnam will officially join the WTO 30 days after its national assembly ratifies the accession agreements.

WTO membership will give the surging Vietnamese economy increased access to foreign markets. In return, the country will have to drop high tariffs on foreign imports and eliminate subsidies for state-owned companies. Adam Sitkoff is the head of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hanoi. He says WTO membership will also help bring more foreign investment to Vietnam. "We're going to see lower tariffs, better market access, better rule of law, and generally just international standards of doing business in Vietnam, which is going to improve the investment and economic climate here," Sitkoff said.

Vietnam Television's VTV1 channel was set to celebrate Wednesday evening with a TV event titled "Night of Integration" with broadcasts from Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City and Geneva, where the WTO is headquartered. Some 800 delegates, including state, party, diplomatic and business representatives, were to discuss what joining the international rules based trading system will mean for the country of 84 million people. Investors on Ho Chi Minh City's nascent stock exchange also welcomed the news from Switzerland, with the benchmark VNIndex closing at 525.99 Wednesday, up 5.9 points or 1.13 percent from the previous day. "It's probably because investors are happy that Vietnam will become a WTO member," said a stock exchange spokesman. "It's a good sign."

Vietnam, though still a developing country, has seen the fastest growth of any major economy in East Asia after China, booking over 8 percent gross domestic product growth last year. Agriculture employs the bulk of Vietnam's people but last year contributed only 8 billion dollars, or 15 percent, to the country's gross domestic product of 53 billion dollars, according to government figures. The country will on November 18-19 host an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit with US President George W Bush, China's Hu Jintao, and Russia's Vladimir Putin among the guests.

Matt Steinglass and AFP Business News contributed to this report.

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