Some of the key issues not yet agreed in the multilateral report include labor standards, textiles and apparel, trading rights (importing into Vietnam), and the excise duty on spirits and beers.
The chairperson of Viet Nam’s membership negotiations aims to secure final agreement at the General Council meeting in October 10-11 2006, after additional informal meetings in September, followed by a formal working party meeting.
With Viet Nam’s last bilateral market access negotiations completed in May (with the United States and Mexico), work is now focusing partly on translating those bilateral deals into the lengthy detailed commitments (or “schedules”) that Viet Nam would apply to trade with the entire WTO membership.
It is also focusing on completing a multilateral report that includes Viet Nam’s commitment to make its laws, rules and regulations comply with WTO agreements and to satisfy its future fellow-members.
Both of these tasks were already being undertaken in informal meetings in the days leading up to the 19 July formal working party meeting.
The chairperson’s comments
“Today marks an important stage in our progress,” said Ambassador Eirik Glenne of Norway, who happens to chair both Viet Nam’s working party and the General Council. “My target remains to try to conclude the mandate of this working party in time for the General Council to consider Viet Nam’s accession when it meets in October.”
But he cautioned that a lot of work remains to be completed in the meantime. “The end of a long negotiation like this one is always difficult and rushed, but I know that Viet Nam and you the members are all prepared to work with me in making that extra effort to get this done,” he said.
The remaining tasks include, he said: more factual information from the Vietnamese to clarify the situation; work between Viet Nam and its negotiating partners to clarify some parts of the schedules of commitments; and further policy decisions to be taken by Viet Nam itself.
Ambassador Glenne asked members to discuss revisions to the draft texts with Viet Nam and to supply these in writing to the Secretariat within the next few weeks. He aims to circulate the entire draft accession package as early as possible in September. This would include both the schedules of commitments on tariffs, tariff quotas, agricultural subsidies and services market opening, and the working party report describing actions Viet Nam has taken or will take.
By mid-September, Ambassador Glenne plans to start informal consultations to fine tune the drafts. “As soon as I am satisfied with this phase of our work, we can go into a final meeting of the working party to conclude our mandate.”
The package would then go to the General Council for a decision. Once its membership has been approved, Viet Nam then has to ratify the deal, with another 30 days after ratification before it becomes a full member.
Viet Nam’s comments
Viet Nam’s Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen said his country sees membership as of crucial importance. The reforms as well as membership itself will be necessary for Viet Nam’s economic growth and will also make a “modest” contribution to the expansion of the global economy, he told the working party. He listed the actions Viet Nam has taken and some of its commitments. These included 24 laws and numerous regulations, including commercial, enterprise and intellectual property laws, and pledges to implement the WTO’s Sanitary and Phytosanitary and Technical Barriers to Trade agreements immediately instead of Viet Nam’s original request to delay these for two years. Although Viet Nam is a low income developing country in transition, it is being asked to make commitments that go beyond those of current members in a similar position, the minister said. He cited Viet Nam’s agreement to scrap agricultural export subsidies immediately as an example and asked members to be flexible.
All speakers warmly praised Viet Nam for its efforts and looked forward to its membership later this year. A few identified issues they still want to pursue or information they need for clarification.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN, Brunei speaking) called for draft paragraphs on labour standards and textiles to be deleted from the working party report, the latter because the WTO’s Textiles and Clothing Agreement is now defunct. Viet Nam, which is a member of ASEAN, echoed the call.
Two issues which have been raised repeatedly in previous meetings appear close to resolution. One is trading rights, with Viet Nam now agreeing that foreign companies can have the right to import into Viet Nam even if they do not have commercial presence, so long as they register with the Vietnamese government. Members welcomed this although some are still seeking further clarification.
The other is excise duty on spirits and beers. Some members are concerned that higher duty rates on spirits of over 40 degrees amounts to discrimination against imported spirits. They offered some suggestions such as a sliding scale based on alcohol content that would not discriminate. Some members are also uncomfortable with different rates for bottled, canned, “draught” and “draft” beer, which they say also discriminates against imports. Viet Nam said it has no intention to discriminate and is looking for an acceptable solution.
Once again, Viet Nam found itself in the middle of an argument between Argentina (which defends the right to impose export taxes and restrictions) and the EU and US (which oppose these). Even then, Argentina said neutral wording can be found to reflect Viet Nam’s agreement in bilateral talks not to impose these, without relating this to WTO agreements.
The US praised Viet Nam for the extensive revisions and updating of its intellectual property laws. It said it was pleased to report that the end of the dialogue on legislation in this area is in sight.
Drafts to be circulated, informal meetings in September, followed by a formal working party meeting. No dates set.