High-level trade talks with United States this week in Hanoi did not produce an agreement on Vietnam's entry in the World Trade Organization, but negotiators say they made considerable progress. The two sides will meet again in March to try to ensure Vietnam enters the world trading club as soon as possible.
The leader of the U.S. trade negotiators, Dorothy Dwoskin, said the two sides are getting closer to an agreement needed for Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization. However, she said that both needed to consult with their governments to further narrow the gap.
"This week, I think both sides worked very hard to narrow remaining differences," she said. "We were very, very pleased with our progress and I think our meetings this week have injected new energy and momentum into the negotiations."
Vietnamese officials have complained in the past that the U.S. negotiations are holding up the country's WTO accession. New entries to the organization must get the approval of all existing members, giving any one member an effective veto.
Vietnam had hoped to join the WTO at last month's ministerial meeting in Hong Kong but had not reached bilateral agreements with key members such as the United States, Australia and New Zealand. Hanoi began the WTO application process 10 years ago.
After three days of talks this week, Vietnam's trade minister, Truong Dinh Tuyen, told reporters Wednesday that the negotiations were "serious." He said both sides offered concessions on tough issues such as opening Vietnam's insurance, banking and telecommunications markets as well as gaining access to U.S. markets for Vietnam's farm products.
The global anti-poverty group Oxfam has accused the United States and other countries of "extortion at the gate," saying that concessions from prospective WTO members are far steeper than they were just five years ago. Oxfam says such "WTO-plus" demands include extra promises on intellectual property rights and having new members drop agriculture subsidies almost immediately.
Dwoskin, however, rejected any suggestion that Vietnam would get a tougher deal than earlier WTO members.
"I would take issue with the notion that we're talking about WTO-plus," she added. "We are working very hard to help Vietnam negotiate its entry into the WTO."
Last week, Assistant Secretary of State Christopher Hill defended Washington's tough trade policy on Vietnam, saying U.S. companies must have a level playing field. He also pointed out that Vietnam, while still a poor country, has seen its exports to the U.S. roughly double each year since 2001, while it imports few American products.