Twelve Years to Free Markets, Pledges Vietnam on Joining WTO

2006-11-10
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Vietnam promises further economic reform. Photo: AFP

HANOI—After more than 10 years of negotiations and over 200 multilateral and bilateral meetings, Vietnam has joined the World Trade Organization (WTO), with top officials predicting the communist country will attain full market economy status within just 12 years.

As far as Vietnam’s accession to WTO is concerned, I think that this duration for Vietnam to fulfill its commitments to become a market-economy country is acceptable.

Le Dang Doanh, senior adviser to the Secretary of Planning and Investment, said Hanoi was fully committed to the reduction of import taxes and the abolition of subsidies, and that the next 12 years would take the country irrevocably down the road to full market reform.

“As far as Vietnam’s accession to WTO is concerned, I think that this duration for Vietnam to fulfill its commitments to become a market-economy country is acceptable,” Doanh told RFA’s Vietnamese service.

Vietnam’s accession to the global trade body comes ahead of its hosting of the leadership summit of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, or APEC, Nov. 18-19, during which U.S. President George W. Bush is expected to hold bilateral talks with Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung.

Meanwhile, Hanoi has announced it will remove a law enabling it to detain its citizens without trial under ill-defined circumstances from the statute books.

Administrative Detention Decree 31/CP has been used by the authorities to detain large numbers of its political opponents, or simply people whose views they do not like.

The announcement follows a protracted diplomatic dialogue on human rights between Hanoi and Washington which began in February 2006, and pressure from international human rights groups.

Concessions expected

Hanoi was expected to make concessions on the human rights front ahead of the U.S. Congress’s expected approval of a bill normalizing trade relations with Vietnam, granting full market access rights not subject to annual review.

“Decree 31 allows the government to detain individuals for broad and ill-defined reasons and without due process,” Barry F. Lowenkron, Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor told a congressional committee in March.

“We know of several political and religious dissidents who currently are detained under Decree 31,” Lowenkron told the House International Relations subcommittees on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations and on Asia and the Pacific.

Vietnam has, however, not made any formal announcement on the removal of the measure, which allows local officials and police to detain any person up to two years without trial in the name of protecting national security.

With the decree’s removal, whoever is detained will have to know what they are being detained for and be given an opportunity to go to court and to meet with a lawyer—rights not granted before, according to a U.S. official who accompanied Lowenkron on a trip to Hanoi two weeks ago.

Legislative reform

Vietnam has amended a raft of laws to bring them into line with WTO rules governing trade, competition and market access.

But there are no signs of change in Hanoi´s attitude to dissent, and dozens of government opponents remain jailed or under house arrest.

The government has criticized the awarding of the 2006 Rafto Memorial Prize for human rights to prominent Buddhist leader Thich Quang Do, and has strongly hinted that he may not be allowed to return to Vietnam, should he travel to Norway to receive it.

Original reporting by Khanh Nguyen and Thanh Truc. RFA Vietnamese service director: Diem Nguyen. Produced for the Web in English by Luisetta Mudie. Edited by Sarah Jackson-Han.

Original reporting in Vietnamese

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