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Vietnam Moves Toward Market Economy - 2001-12-11

Vietnam's National Assembly has voted to change the country's constitution to guarantee the rights of privately owned companies. The move is symbolic of communist Vietnam's move toward a market economy.

The change in wording to Vietnam's Constitution is small lawmakers voted Tuesday to add a phrase to Article 16 saying that all economic sectors must cooperate equally and compete according to law.

But in a country once dominated by state-owned businesses and where private companies still are restricted, the confirmation of private-sector rights is seen as a major step.

The move is meant to enshrine in the constitution what is already in practice in Vietnam. Since opening up its economy in the early 1990s, the country has sought to set up what it calls a socialist-oriented market economy.

Vietnam promised its foreign donors last week to speed up economic reforms, including selling equity stakes in state-owned enterprises and making bank operations more transparent.

Private companies have steadily gained rights in the past several years. However, they are still excluded from competing with state-owned companies in some areas, such as telecommunications and exporting. Whether those restrictions will change with the constitutional amendment has not been made clear.