Vietnam has a fair chance to become a WTO member in December 2005, said Ho Seung chair of the Working Party on the WTO Accession of Vietnam in an exclusive interview.
Chair of the Working Party on the WTO Accession of Vietnam Ho Seung.
Is Vietnam fully prepared for the negotiations in Geneva next week?
I’ve met with deputy prime minister Vu Khoan and deputy Trade minister Luong Van Tu, the chief negotiator. We discussed strategic matters to build up the Working Party session. The Vietnamese government has so far shown very clearly what they can do to become a WTO member. Despite domestic difficulties, the Vietnamese delegation has tried to accommodate WTO member requests.
Firstly, Vietnam is trying to improve the offers in goods and service. We have also amended laws to comply with WTO requirements. Surely, there are a number of difficult and controversial subjects to be resolved, but my impression is that Vietnam is making great efforts.
So how far has Vietnam come in the accession process?
In bilateral forums, Vietnam has reached agreements with the European Union (EU) and several other countries. I think the agreement with the EU is the most important milestone in achievement. It will be a good basis for advancement.
Yet, there still remain negotiations with other member states, including the US, China, and Japan. Recently, Vietnam held talks with Japan in Hanoi. Also, Vietnam’s negotiators held negotiations with US counterparts last November. There were positive results although negotiations with these countries are not concluded yet.
On multilateral basis, there still remain a number of member requests, including improvement of offers and concessions on goods and services. Besides which they want Vietnam to make changes to its legal system to comply with WTO regulations. Perhaps, Vietnam must amend or set new laws. To my knowledge, during the recent session, the National Assembly has passed a number of new laws. This will put good effects on the working party’s members. However, Vietnam must improve transparency in the legal system and in governance over foreign trade.
What I can say now is Vietnam is on the right and good track to becoming a WTO member. There is a fair chance we may enter the WTO at the ministerial Meeting in Hong Kong next December.
You mean that Vietnam could accede in December 2005?
What I mean is that there is a good chance negotiations will be concluded and membership gained by the time. I sincerely hope so. I also understand such will from the government and the negotiation group. They have worked together, defined a clear roadmap of steps that need to take to achieve their goal. The government and negotiators are dealing with a challenging situation.
How significance are the upcoming Geneva negotiations to Vietnam’s accession?
In these upcoming talks, we will discuss the first edition of the draft report. It is an important process in the accession process. The draft report includes elements such as what Vietnam must do prior to accession, and what Vietnam will do in the transition period.
We are going to discuss the domestic legal system, barrier regimes, export licensing, and the dual price system. It will take a number of negotiation rounds to finish discussion on the draft report. Then all parties will discuss protocol. If the Working Party Group agrees to the proposals, they will be forwarded to the WTO Secretariat.
What are the biggest challenges for the next round?
The foremost problem Vietnam needs to solve is the passage of provisional laws relating to international trade. Member states continually request that candidates pass provisional laws to facilitate foreign trade. Besides, a number of countries such as the US, Australia, Canada, and Japan have expressed concerns over financial and automotive markets in Vietnam.
While deals have been finalised with several other WTO members, why are negotiations with countries like the US and Japan still so troubled?
I hope that the US delegation will be more flexible and offer better terms in Geneva. But two positive signs should be taken into account. The US conceded several difficult points in the first edition of the draft report. At the last meeting in June, they also agreed to draft the first edition report, which is to be released before the Geneva meeting. This is backed by their acceptance to a second meeting in Geneva, after the June meeting.
Two rounds of talks within a year is a good sign. I will meet the US delegation when I go to Geneva. We’ll talk on the challenges and problems that Vietnam faces. As the chair of the Working Party, I’ll explain these issues to facilitate better understanding.
Then with Japan, I feel optimistic that negotiations will be finalised before the end of this year, or early January 2005 at latest.
OXFAM have forecast negative membership implications for farmers. What can Vietnam do to protect its farmers under the WTO?
Vietnam will certainly face difficulties in opening up its agricultural produce markets to foreign interests. Around 80% of Vietnam’s population are farmers, so the agricultural sector is an important and sensitive area.
Fortunately, Vietnam will be entitled to claim a certain transition period to adapt to the competitive situation. Cotton and rice are competitive products, but sugar for example is weak. It is important that negotiators to take these weaker sectors into consideration.
That’s why I emphasise utilisation of the transition period to ensure sectors are strong enough to endure competition with foreign groups. There will be five, seven or even 10 years of grace for transition -long enough to adjust these sectors for survival.