Vietnam became this week the 150th member of the World Trade Organization. U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab welcomed Vietnam into the WTO saying this is an historic day for Vietnam and the rules-based global trading system.
The event happens almost thirty two years after communist Vietnam's forces defeated a US supported puppet regime and expelled US troops from their soil. But Vietnam has now emerged as one of the world's fastest growing economies and after several attempts has finally managed to join the capitalist club. "Welcome, Bienvenue, Bienvenido, Vietnam'' read a giant blue banner across the across the WTO's Geneva headquarters. "This is an outstanding event for Vietnam's economic integration, which shows the deep and inclusive participation of Vietnam in the global trade system", said Le Dung, spokesperson for Hanoi's Foreign Affairs ministry. Vietnam's entry, the terms of which were agreed in November after 11 years of negotiations, opens the door to increased trade and investment in the country. For its industries, it will mean increased access to foreign markets and a neutral arbiter to hear disputes that arise with its bigger, more powerful trading partners. While Vietnam will also benefit from the increased demand for goods and services that more foreign investment brings, it will have to forfeit a number of subsidies and tax breaks previously granted to Vietnamese companies. With a population of 84 million people, Vietnam was the second most populous country behind Russia still outside the WTO. Russia has been seeking membership for over a decade and is probably still at least a year away. Over the last two decades Vietnam, --whose economy has grown an average of more than 7% in the last decade--, has gradually implemented free-market reforms, winning praise from foreign investors whose interest in the country has been growing, although the government continues to exercise direction over many large, state-owned companies. Foreign direct investment in Vietnam reached a record ten billion US dollars last year. However in Philippines, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung announced that Vietnam plans to privatize more than 100 state-owned firms this year and next, including the oil and gas industries. "That's our plan in 2007 and 2008, to privatise or make public all these 104 companies, including Vietnam Airlines and the oil and gas industries." "Vietnam will also boost its openness and transparency as the other members of WTO and as regulated by the WTO" Dung is on the central Philippine island of Cebu for a summit of the 10-member Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as a broader meeting with the heads of China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia and New Zealand