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Vietnam Praised for Economic Progress - 2001-12-07

International aid donors meeting in Vietnam welcome the progress the country has made in modernizing its economy, but say more needs to be done. The donors are discussing a new package of economic assistance for Vietnam.

Vietnam's Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam told representatives of donor countries and aid agencies that Vietnam is on track to post seven percent economic growth this year. He says, however, the country will need the donors' help to maintain that growth given the grim global economic climate.

Representatives from the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and more than 15 donor countries on Friday began a two-day meeting in Hanoi.

World Bank representative Andrew Steer praised Vietnam's progress, saying the country is "altogether moving in the right direction." He singled out Vietnam's recent approval of a bilateral trade agreement with the United States and signing of agreements with the IMF.

But he says there is still much work to be done, especially in ensuring transparency in government dealings, reforming the banking sector and streamlining state-owned businesses.

Since beginning its economic reforms in the early 1990s, Vietnam has reduced its poverty rate from 70 percent of the population in 1990 to 32 percent this year, according to World Bank estimates.

Economic growth has averaged seven percent a year, even during the Asian financial crisis of 1997.

Mr. Cam said in his speech that the country could not have achieved such results without the more than $17 billion in foreign aid it has received in recent years.

Donors are expected to pledge an additional $1.7 billion in aid at this week's meeting.

One item not on the donors' agenda is the issue of human rights. Earlier this week, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged international donors to push Hanoi to allow greater religious and civil freedom and to free dozens of political dissidents.

Vietnam's Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Phan Thuy Thanh accused Human Rights Watch of trying to muddy the waters with what she called "distortions" of the situation in Vietnam.