20 May 2005

Chair says Viet Nam must complete bilaterals quickly to meet ambition

WTO members praised Viet Nam at an informal meeting on 20 May 2005 for speeding up the passage of legislation and supplying more information on its intentions on joining the WTO.

But several warned that time is running short if Viet Nam is to meet its ambition of joining the WTO by the Hong Kong Ministerial Conference at the end of this year.

And the chairperson of the working party negotiating the country’s membership, Ambassador Eirik Glenne of Norway, said Viet Nam and its trading partners should finish their bilateral talks in “a couple of months” if that ambition is to be met.

See also:
> I am delighted to highlight Viet Nam’s new commitments’ — vice minister’s statement

The comments were made in an informal meeting of the working party. (The meeting was informal to provide the Secretariat with additional inputs before it revises the draft working party report. However, in most respects, the meeting was conducted in the same way as a formal meeting.)

Among the new information that Viet Nam has supplied since the last working party meeting in December are the latest set of replies to members’ questions, a revised action plan for the required legislation, some new texts of draft laws, and revised offers to open the Vietnamese markets for goods and services.

In an opening statement, Viet Nam’s vice minister of trade and chief negotiator, Luong Van Tu, also listed eight new commitments and developments: a proposed revision of excise duties to end discrimination against imported motor vehicles; a similar proposal for excise duty on beer; the elimination of export subsidies that depend on export performance; a commitment to require supported products made in free zones to be subject to normal customs formalities when entering the rest of Viet Nam; enquiry points on technical barriers and sanitary/phytosanitary measures to trade to be set up; cutting the restrictions on trading rights to a small number of sensitive products such as petroleum, pharmaceuticals, sugar, tobacco, salt, fertilizers, rice and cultural products; a detailed comparison between the provisions of the recently issued prime ministerial decision on the Import Licensing Regulation and those of WTO’s Agreement on Import Licensing Procedures, underscoring that the new decision is based on WTO rules and regulations.

“I would like to take this opportunity to again call on WTO members to recognize not only in words but also in action the fact that Vietnam remains a low-level developing country with a transitional economy, whereby over 70% of the population lives on agriculture, and the per capital income is just more than US$400, hence Vietnam is eligible for special and differential treatment granted under WTO Agreements,” the vice minister said.

“We would like to express our high appreciation to those Members with whom our bilateral negotiations have been concluded successfully for their taking into account of this fact and accepting to grant Vietnam the flexibilities essential to help it get accustomed to the new and challenging environment.”

All speakers praised Viet Nam for these efforts and supported its aim of joining by the December ministerial conference. However, the emphasis differed.

Viet Nam’s fellow members in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, Singapore speaking on the group’s behalf) described Viet Nam’s efforts as “tremendous”. They and some other developing countries broadly called for WTO members to be flexible so that agreement can be reached in time. “I think this is the least we could do to honour the great efforts of Viet Nam said one.

Some other members stressed how much still needs to be sorted out, even though they support Viet Nam’s ambition. “A tremendous effort by Viet Nam will be needed to turn this into reality,” said one.

Bilateral negotiations back to top

Viet Nam reported that it has reached agreement with eight members in bilateral negotiations on market access in goods and services, out of over 20 countries that have asked for talks. Negotiations with another eight could be completed by mid-June, the Vietnamese said.

Viet Nam indicated that more bilateral negotiations are needed with five major trading partners, and it listed numerous bilateral negotiations scheduled for the coming weeks, both in capitals and in Geneva.

However, the chairperson pointed out that no bilateral agreement has been notified yet, and that all remaining agreements would need to be concluded in “a couple of months” (allowing time for the agreements to be signed and notified) if Viet Nam is to join the WTO at the Hong Kong meeting in December.

“It is, of course, my hope and expectation that by the time of our September meeting, Viet Nam will have succeeded in its efforts to conclude all its remaining bilateral market access negotiations in goods and services and that the Secretariat will have received the signed copies of such agreements,” Amb. Glenne told working party members.

“You know too well that the technical preparation of the goods and services schedules and the process of verification of these documents by members is always a time-consuming and painstaking process. This is, therefore, one major reason why I have stressed the need for Viet Nam to tackle their bilaterals as a matter of priority.”

(The results of bilateral deals have to be consolidated into Viet Nam’s schedules of commitments on goods and services, which apply multilaterally, i.e. to all WTO members.)

Multilateral issues back to top

Among a long list of issues discussed in the meeting, one that aroused concern among many members was the right to import and export goods. Viet Nam wants to reserve for Vietnamese nationals for a period of time the right to import certain products. Several members said trading rights should be given to all “natural” and “legal persons” for all products.

Several developing countries said members should not ask Viet Nam to make commitments that go beyond WTO agreements, such as on core labour standards, which they said should be handled through the ILO. They also argued that Viet Nam should enjoy rights under the WTO’s “special and differential treatment” provisions for developing countries, since Viet Nam is a highly indebted low income developing country.

Among recent developments are the creation of Vietnamese enquiry points for technical barriers to trade (TBT, i.e. product standards and labelling) and sanitary and phytosanitary measures (SPS, i.e. food safety and animal and plant health). Several members welcomed this and urged Viet Nam to use these enquiry points to compile and supply information on its TBT and SPS measures.

Earlier in the week, the Secretariat received from Viet Nam a series of draft laws, including the draft Commercial Law, the draft Law amending and supplementing some articles of the Customs Law, the draft Law “On the Conclusion, Accession and Implementation of International Treaties”, the draft Law “On E-Transactions”, the draft Law “On Investment”, Part VI of the draft Law “On Intellectual Property Rights and Technology Transfer”, the draft Intellectual Property Law, and a document comparing the draft Law “On Export and Import Duties” and “The Provisions of the Existing Law on Export and Import Duties”.

“This will, without any doubt, facilitate the accession process,” said chairperson Glenne.

Chair’s conclusions back to top

“it is clear that work is accelerating and that significant progress has been made on the multilateral, bilateral, and legislative fronts,” Ambassador Glenne said.

“The discussions were quite concrete and constructive. They have helped to clarify the factual picture and highlighted remaining gaps. Of course, more work remains to be done for Viet Nam to complete pending bilateral, and to fine-tune the text of the report and come to an agreement on the still outstanding issues.”

The chairperson proposed a timetable to enable the working party to hold its next meeting in September. He invited members to submit their specific comments or textual proposals on the documentation by Friday 3 June.

With Vietnam scheduled to negotiate bilaterally “constantly in June”, he proposed that any agreement reached in these meetings, especially textual inputs for the revised draft working party report, be sent quickly to him and to the Secretariat.

“It is in all our interests to have a truly comprehensive and up-to-date revised draft report for examination at the next working party meeting,” he said. The Secretariat would use the inputs to revise the report over the summer (July and August), and the September meeting would consider it, the chairperson said.

Next back to top

Bilateral meetings will continue around the world and in Geneva, at least into June. The chairperson aims to call the next working party meeting in September.

Background back to top

Working party members: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Brunei, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, China, Colombia, Croatia, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Egypt, El Salvador, European Union and member states, Honduras, Hong Kong China, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Republic of Korea, Kyrgyz Republic, Malaysia, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, New Zealand, Norway, Pakistan, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Romania, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Switzerland, Chinese Taipei, Thailand, Turkey, United States, Uruguay

Chairperson: Ambassador Eirik Glenne (Norway)

Viet Nam’s Working Party was established on 31 January 1995. The previous formal meeting was on 15 December 2004. Bilateral market access talks are well underway and will continue.

> Vice minister’s statement