The World Trade Organization formally invited Vietnam on Tuesday to become the commerce body's 150th member, paving the way for the country to join within 30 days of its National Assembly ratifying the accord.
The organization's general council approved accession terms for Vietnam with the fall of a gavel from WTO chief Pascal Lamy, completing 11 years of entry talks with the Geneva-based group.
“I see Vietnam as one of the rising stars of world trade,” Lamy said, urging the country to continue on its path of domestic reform.
Membership in the global trade body will give Vietnam increased access to foreign markets and the opportunity to take trade grievances to a neutral arbiter, strengthening its hand against nations that accuse it of illegally dumping goods on their markets. In return, the country will be required to drop its high tariffs on foreign imports and eliminate subsidies for state-owned companies.
“This will work both to the benefit of Vietnam and to the benefit of the World Trade Organization,” Lamy told reporters at the WTO's Geneva headquarters.
Pham Gia Khiem, Vietnam's deputy prime minister, said Vietnam would “fully implement” its commitments under WTO rules and continue to develop toward what he termed a “socialism-oriented market economy.”
Vietnam is Asia's fastest-growing economy after China, and the Asian Development Bank in August projected its economy would expand by 7.8 per cent this year. With a population of 84 million, it is the second most populous country behind Russia still outside the WTO.
While its trade with the United States has grown from $1.2 billion in 2000 to $7.8 billion last year, it is still waiting for the U.S. Congress to normalize trade between the two countries, which would lift restrictions on trade between them.
Vietnam's Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called for the U.S. to pass the legislation in time for President Bush's visit to the country for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit next week.
“Sooner or later, the U.S. will give (permanent normal trading relations) to Vietnam, but if it is given by President Bush when he arrives here, we will highly appreciate it,” Dow Jones Newswires quoted the prime minister as saying Tuesday during a meeting with U.S. and Vietnamese business leaders.
The Nov. 16-19 summit will put Vietnam in the spotlight, drawing leaders from 21 countries and thousands of business executives from around the world for talks on trade in the region.
Since the United States and Vietnam implemented a bilateral trade agreement five years ago, Vietnam's garment exports to the U.S. have skyrocketed. The industry is hoping to reap even greater profits after joining the WTO, if the United States lifts quotas on Vietnamese exports.
Outside investment in Vietnam already has risen 41 per cent in the last year. Foreign companies have been encouraged by Vietnam's market reforms, which began tentatively in the late 1980s, moved in fits and starts during the 1990s and greatly accelerated over the last three years.
Foreign companies will soon enjoy far greater access to Vietnam's economy, which has averaged 7.5 per cent growth over the last decade, one of fastest rates in the world.
EU trade chief Peter Mandelson called Vietnam's acceptance “a milestone in its economic development and its integration into the global economy.”