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Bush Signs Vietnam Trade Measure

President Bush has signed legislation normalizing U.S. trade relations with Vietnam. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from the White House the provision was included in a wide-ranging tax bill.

President Bush says amazing changes are taking place in Vietnam and more could be on the way as that country opens up its economy and joins the World Trade Organization.

"Vietnam is demonstrating a strong commitment to economic reform," he said. "And I believe that's going to encourage political reform and greater respect for human rights and human dignity."

Mr. Bush said expanding trade with the United States will help the Vietnamese people build a strong economy that is going to raise their standard of living.

"It's in our interest to help those who struggle," he added. "It's in the interest of the United States to promote prosperity around the world, and the best way to do so is through opening up markets and free and fair trade."

For Vietnam, permanent normal trade status with the United States means it will now be treated the same as America's other WTO trading partners, and two-way trade will proceed using the lower tariffs mandated by WTO rules.

Language adding Vietnam to the long list of countries with permanent normalized trade relations was included by Congress in a broad tax bill that passed in the final moments of the just-concluded legislative session. In essence, the bill exempts Vietnam from the annual human rights and immigration-related reviews required for Communist countries to get trade benefits.

President Bush had hoped to win Congressional approval before his trip to Vietnam last month. But critics managed to stall the measure for weeks, citing concerns about its impact on the U.S. textile industry and raising questions about Vietnam's long-term commitment to human rights.

The tax bill also contains tariff provisions affecting Haiti, sub-Saharan Africa and the Andean nations. It extends a series of existing programs that give duty-free status to products these countries export to the United States.

President Bush said he hopes to develop trade relationships with other countries in the future.

"Trade is an engine of economic growth, and I'm looking forward to continuing to work with the new Congress to open up markets for U.S. farmers and manufacturers and service providers, and provide new opportunities for people around the world and help eliminate poverty," he said.

But it may be difficult for Mr. Bush to reach a meeting of the minds with the Democrats who will soon assume control of the House and Senate. They have already made clear that they are not likely to extend the president's current trade negotiating authority when it expires on July 1.