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Vietnam WTO Accession Within Reach

A Vietnamese delegation in Geneva is negotiating with a group of other countries to hammer out a final agreement on Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organization. A deal could be reached in a day or two, allowing Vietnam greater access to the world's markets.

A definitive agreement allowing Vietnam to join the World Trade Organization could be reached by Friday.

Eirik Glenne is Norway's ambassador to the WTO and he is chairman of the multilateral negotiations on Vietnam's accession that began on Monday in Geneva.

"Hopefully, it depends of course on how these consultations are going, but hopefully we will have an agreement by the end of the week," he said. "Which we will then have to formalize later on."

The multilateral negotiations are the final substantial hurdle in Vietnam's effort to join the WTO. Vietnam has already concluded bilateral agreements with each of the member countries that requested them, including major trading partners such as the United States, the European Union and China.

But a number of countries, some of which have bilateral agreements with Vietnam, have raised new concerns in the multilateral round. Glenne says those countries are negotiating informally to resolve the remaining issues.

"We have now a group of countries, it's not all the working party because not all of the working party's members are equally interested in the remaining issues, but there are some countries, less than 10, that are participating in these informal consultations now," he said.

Glenne declined to specify which countries are involved or what the issues are. But the official Vietnam News Agency announced Wednesday that the remaining disputes include Vietnam's special consumption tax, which applies to luxury goods such as cars and cigarettes; its favoring of companies in special economic zones; and its granting of trading monopolies on certain goods to state-owned companies. Other countries are also pushing Vietnam to adopt sanitary measures to ensure the safety of food exports.

Other Vietnamese media reports have cited intellectual property rights as a major area of concern at the multilateral talks. Many developed countries that produce software, movies and books are concerned about illegal copying of their copyrighted works.

Joining the WTO has been a prime foreign policy objective for Vietnam for years. Membership is necessary for Vietnam's export-driven economy to compete with rivals who are already members, such as China.

The country's leaders had hoped to join before Hanoi hosts the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit this November. But once the working group reaches an agreement, Vietnam's candidacy must still be approved by the WTO's general council of 149 nations. The possibility that this could take place before the APEC summit appears increasingly remote.