Interview with U.S. Representative Loretta Sanchez (D.-Calif.)

1999-07-28
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July 29, 1999 Copyright 1999, Radio Free Asia Byline: Anh Chan Q: As you know, the governments of Viet Nam. and the United States recently agreed in principle to sign a bilateral trade agreement. What do you think are the prospects that the trade agreement will be approved by the United States Congress? A: Well, they did agree in priciple on July 25, but they must now bring it forward into the Congress. The Senate will have an opportunity to ratify that agrêment, and of course I believe that we shouldnỖt do this trade agreement until we have looked at some of the other issues. In particular, IỖve been fighting very hard for the human rights issues, the issue of collective bargaining, and also , of course, there are other ranges of issues including the protection of intellectual property and market access between the two countries. And it just seems to me very ironic that at the present moment --- Viet Nam is not adhering to protection of intellectual property, for example --- that we would think all of a sudden that theyỖre going to change their way of being. Q: You mention human rights issues. Which of these issues would you put forward in connection with the trade agreement? A: Well, in order for this pact to continue, the President will have to put forward a waiver of the Jackson ỜVanik Amendment, and the reality is that he does this every year. And last year I fought it on the House floor, because I think the violations of human rights have been well documented. Not just by outside organizations and groups, but also by the States DepartmentỖs 1998 Country Report on Human Rights Practices in Viet Nam. So last year, for example, I was one of the leaders in the fight to stop the waiver of Jackson-Vanik, and we did not have enough votes. And I know that probably next week we will be doing this fight again on the Jackson-Vanik Amendment. That is one of the ways that we can fight it. The other way is to educate our Senators on the other side with respect to the human rights violations. And we have done several things so far to do that. We have a dialogue for discussion of Viet Nam that we set up here so that we can get information to other Congresspeople about what is happening in Viet Nam. I have held the only Human Rights Caucus congressional hearing on this issue of human rights in Viet Nam. And of course I have a group that works on adopting a prisoner of conscience in Viet Nam, who is imprisoned or detained right nơw. That should be --- itỔs to adopt one of those prisoners by each Congressperson, so that Congresspeople are more tied to what is happening in Viet Nam. These are ways IỖve tried to educate people here in Congress about what goes on in Viet Nam. But unfortunately, so far, the votes have been in favor of this trade relationship between the United States and Viet Nam. Q: I understand you have many constituents in your district who are Vietnamese-American . What has been the reaction in Orange County to this trade agrêment? A: Well, certainly, first of all, realize that for the last three years, weỖve been working very closely, the Vietnamese-American community and myself, on this issue, as their representative in Congress. And so I know very well --- and IỖve also visited Vietnam for seven days just in April --- I met with many of the dissidents who have been imprisoned and had their freedoms taken away... I met with religious leaders. So we have a good understanding of the fact that these human rights issues are still not at par, at where we want them to be. The Vietnamese-American community has spoken fairly loudly out of Orange County that they would prefer that this trade agreement not go through until these issues of human rights are settled. Q: Is there a risk that once the Vietnamese Government has what it wants, such as MFN (Most-Favored Nation) or NTR (ỘNormal Trade RelationsỢ) status, it will go very slowly on carrying out its end of the bargain? A: Well, again, I would conclude that when we take away this issue of trade, when we take away the incentive for them to do a better job with respect to human rights, that we actually have taken away our leverage that we have with that country. And so I think we wil not see movement on human rights because of the trade agreement. I think they will continue to be severe with respect to organization of people, with respect to freedom of religion, with respect to collective bargaining. I think theyỖll continue to have laws that allow them to take people without a reason and imprison them for up to two years. And I think we need to slow down the trade process and look at these very fundamental problems that Viet Nam has. Q: How exactly, if at all, does the agreement in principle bind the United States? How does it bind the government of Viet Nam? A: Well, it doesnỖt bind the United States until we ratify it as a Congress. And thatỖs why I would urge the Senate and the House of Representatives to withhold approval of the trade agrêment until the Vietnamese government institutes concrete reforms, rather than just promise us to do so --- for independent trade unions, for free emigration between the countries , and for free and independent media. The freedom of the press is something that doesnỖt exist in Vietnam, and I think that is very, very important. Viet Nam is going to gain quite a bit by being allơwed to put its products into our country, but they need to learn to play by the rules. They need to learn that they shouldnỖt use human labor as cheaply as they are and prison labor and sweatshop labor without collective bargaining, for exampple. They need to understand that people have the right to speak out and they donỖt do that right now, so we need to work with them to change that before we open up our great market that we have here in the United States. Q: As you mentioned, you visited Viet Nam recently. What is your assessment of the situation in Viet Nam? A: Well, certainly, for those Vietnamese that havenỖt been back , you can quite imagine that Hanoi is still more constrained. There is less ability to move around, there is less commerce going on. In Saigon itỖs a bustling economy, everybody is doing something, everybody is a hard worker, there is entrepreneurership going on. The problem, however, is with respect to inability to have freedom of the press. There is still a lot of poverty outside of the two major cities. People are illiterate. The Catholic Church , for example, has not bên given the approval to go and set up schools to help people who are outside of the major cities who need to learn to read, to have some basic health care issues taken care of. So thereỖs a lot of work still to be done in Viet Nam. Q: A few days ago , at the conclusion of the dialogue between the governments of Viet Nam and the United States on human rights questions, the Vietnamese government issued a strong statement, essentially questioning the right of the United States to concern itself with human rights questions in other countries. So by coming to this agreement just a few days later, donỖt we risk sending a message to the Vietnamese government that they can ignore our concerns about human rights and still get whatever they want from the U.S. government? A: Well, I think we do send the wrong message. I fought very hard and have continued to tell this Administration, we should have some of the Vienamese-American citizens at the table helping negotiate this. And that we need to continue to press on the human rights issues. I had Ambassador Pete Peterson out to my district, about a year and a half ago, and he really couldnỖt point to any significant movement on the human rights issues. So I think for us to agree to do trade and begin trade with this country, when theyỖve proven that they havenỖt moved anywhere with the human rights situation, is a bad precedent to set.

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