11/07/2006, 00.00
VIETNAM
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Everything ready to welcome Vietnam as the WTO's 150th member

Negotiations to join lasted ten years. The country is undergoing wide-ranging changes to adapt its legislation, but human rights remain fragile.

Hanoi (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Vietnam is preparing to become the 150th member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). Other member states are expected to vote today in favour of Vietnam's entry, following ten years of negotiations and many structural changes the country has undergone in the last few years.

The move will give Vietnam increased access to foreign markets, but it will require it to open its own market and drop high tariffs on imports.

Vietnam has Asia's fastest economic growth after China, and its economy is set to grow by 7.8 per cent in 2006.

Once the WTO ratifies Vietnamese membership, Vietnam's National Assembly will have to ratify the deal.

In order to join the international organisation, Vietnam has implemented a series of reforms in its commercial laws to make them compatible with international regulations, namely in areas like corporate law, value-added tax, excise tax, foreign exchange, investment as well as railways, intellectual property, education, pharmacy services.

Hanoi, to be more acceptable, has also taken some steps towards greater religious freedom and civil liberties, freeing some dissidents and Buddhist and Christian leaders. But for many Vietnamese, these changes are just cosmetic, a few concessions, and not real changes to the law.

Foreign investors have long wanted Vietnam to join the global trade body to be given greater access to its market, but strategic industries, such as oil production and shipbuilding, are expected to stay under state control.

But when it comes to textiles, WTO membership should generate huge benefits. The agricultural sector is also likely to experience a boom, especially in pepper, rice and coffee.

According to United Nations data, economic reforms in Vietnam have reduced poverty levels from 58 per cent (in 1993) to 24 per cent (in 2004).

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