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WTO gives green light to “rising star” Vietnam

GENEVA – The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has formally approved communist Vietnam’s membership of the global free trade system, opening up a new era of international commerce and investment for one of East Asia’s fastest growing economies.

“It’s the 50th trading country on the planet,” WTO Director General Lamy said, predicting that the burgeoning southeast Asian economy could be “one of the rising stars of world trade”.

The decision by the WTO’s governing General Council brought 12 years of negotiations on the burgeoning southeast Asian economy’s entry to a successful conclusion and opened the way for membership next year.

“Today is a very important and memorable day in the process of the international integration of Vietnam,” Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Pham Gia Khiem told reporters in Geneva.

Under the organisation’s rules, Vietnam will officially become the 150th WTO member 30 days after it notifies the global trade body that its national assembly has ratified the Geneva decision.

A vote by Vietnam’s parliament is expected by December 5, according to the Geneva based WTO.

Lamy said the organisation would provide Vietnam’s “dynamic and powerful” economy with a stable international trading environment.

But the country needed to anchor the reform process it started more than a decade ago and remove obstacles that hamper the development of small business, he cautioned.

“Provided those two things are addressed by adequate domestic policies I see Vietnam as one of the rising stars of world trade,” Lamy predicted.

Tuesday’s decision was largely a formality after the details of the 900-page deal were sealed with negotiators of 43 economies most involved in trade with Vietnam on October 26.

For many sectors of the economy, Vietnam will benefit from transition periods to implement market opening rules, with deadlines ranging from 2008 to 2014.

Lamy underlined that Vietnam will host an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation ( APEC) summit on November 18-19 with the added weight of forthcoming WTO membership.

Vietnam — East Asia’s fastest growing economy after China with over 8.0 percent GDP growth last year — hopes WTO membership will bring further trade and investment to boost wealth in the emerging market of 84 million people.

To get ready for the new free trade era, Vietnam has sped up its 20-year-old ‘doi moi’ (renewal) reform process, moved to equitise state owned enterprises, introduced scores of WTO-compliant laws, and made efforts to improve transparency and fight corruption.

“WTO membership also helps Vietnam refine its reform process, creating opportunities for trade expansion, which is an important tool for economic growth,” Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen said in Geneva

“WTO accession poses major challenges to Vietnam’s economy. However, we do believe that with cooperation extended by the members, Vietnam will make the most of opportunities,” he added.

Lamy acknowledged that the price of WTO membership was rising.