12 May 2003

‘Quantum jump’ needed if Viet Nam is to join in two years

Viet Nam reported progress, on 12 May 2003, in its membership negotiations, but several delegations said much more needs to be done, and the working group chairperson told members that “success will depend on a quantum jump” in efforts if Viet Nam is to meet its goal of joining by 2005.


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Among the points that Viet Nam’s vice trade minister, Luong Van Tu, highlighted in his presentation to the sixth working party session on 12 May 2003 were:
  • progress in bilateral negotiations, which have helped Viet Nam by shedding light on what WTO members are seeking, and by enabling Viet Nam to explain its position
  • improved market access offers in goods (in November 2002) and services (in March 2003)
  • full details of the import duties Vietnam currently charges (i.e. an “applied tariff schedule”), to be supplied soon, hopefully before the working party’s next meeting
  • a document compiling agricultural domestic support and export subsidies, achieved despite lack of statistics and expertise
  • replies to questions, updates of Viet Nam’s plans for legislation, information on non-tariff measures, and action plans to implement a number of WTO agreements, supplied to the working party, including:
  • progress in phasing out dual prices (higher prices charged foreign consumers and businesses) — the last two remaining are electricity and domestic air fares, which will be abolished by 2005
  • progress in phasing out local content policies — import tariffs on motorcycles and parts that require the use of local content were abolished at the end of 2002 and Viet Nam hopes to conform completely with WTO rules by the end of 2006
  • efforts in complying with the intellectual property (TRIPS) agreement
  • a pilot project introducing WTO-based customs valuation
  • progress on implementing the Sanitary and Phytosanitary Measures (SPS) Agreement, including setting up an enquiry point by the beginning of 2006
  • new developments in restructuring state enterprises and converting them to equity ownership, with the creation of a fund for this purpose
  • new investment regulations aimed at creating a level playing field for foreign businesses — for example since March 2003, the government has allowed up to 30% foreign ownership in Vietnamese companies
  • greater transparency in the promulgation of laws and legal documents
  • draft laws that would eliminate value-added and excise taxes that discriminate against foreigners.

At the same time, Viet Nam reminded members that is still a poor developing country with about US$400 per capita GDP. Therefore it is seeking flexibility in its membership negotiations, and technical assistance to meet the “challenging and painstaking” task that it faces.


The discussion back to top

Members generally supported Viet Nam’s desire to join the WTO quickly. They also accepted the need to be flexible, considering Viet Nam’s situation, a point some developing countries stressed.

However, several countries also said they felt that Viet Nam had not done enough, both in making offers of significant market access, and in providing enough information. A few even complained that Viet Nam seemed to backtrack in a few issues. Several said they were still in early stages of the market access negotiations, or only about to start them. They said they could not negotiate market access properly until the lists of import duties Vietnam currently charges (the “applied tariff schedule”) is circulated.

General concern expressed, or calls for more information, were about a range of issues: trading rights for foreigners and foreign companies, technical barriers to trade, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, quantitative restrictions on imports, customs valuation, agricultural subsidies, intellectual property, investment policies and subsidies, the broader economic regime, and so on.


Next back to top

Bilateral meetings will continue in Geneva until 22 May. Some delegations said they have bilaterals planned in Hanoi or elsewhere later this year. The chairperson proposed the following next steps:

  • members to submit further questions or requests for clarification in writing, by mid-June; he urged Viet Nam to ensure its answers are comprehensive and fully transparent
  • Viet Nam to update its summaries of plans for legislation and other action before the next working party meeting
  • once the inputs have been received, the Secretariat to consult with working party members to determine whether to use the material for an updated “factual summary” or an “elements of a draft report” (the latter could take the negotiations into a new phase)
  • another working party meeting later in the year, depending on the arrival of inputs from Viet Nam
  • Viet Nam and working party members should intensify bilateral and plurilateral contacts in order to move forward on complex technical issues such as agriculture, non-tariff measures, technical barriers to trade and sanitary and phytosanitary measures.


Background back to top

Working party members: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Czech Republic, Egypt, EU and member states, Hong Kong, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Rep of Korea, Kyrgyz Republic, Latvia, Lithuania, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Poland, Romania, Singapore, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, US, Uruguay.

Chairperson: Seung Ho (Rep of Korea)

Viet Nam’s Working Party was established on 31 January 1995. The previous meeting of the Working Party was held on 10 April 2002. Bilateral market access contacts have started. Topics under discussion in the working party include: agriculture, the customs system, import licensing, national treatment, SPS and TBT, state trading, trading rights and intellectual property (TRIPS).