Vietnam's National Assembly opened a month-long session Tuesday, aiming to ratify a landmark trade agreement with the United States. Approval of the pact marks the final step in the normalization of ties between the one-time battlefield enemies.
Prime Minister Phan Van Khai said at the National Assembly's opening session that approval of the U.S. trade agreement is crucial to Vietnam's future. With the world economy slowing down, he said greater access to the huge U.S. market is more important than ever.
The Assembly is scheduled to begin debating the deal late next week and officials say there should be no obstacles to swift approval. The U.S. Congress ratified the agreement last month, but both sides must approve it before it can take effect.
Vietnam hopes to get a boost in exports once the deal is in force. Under the agreement, tariffs for Vietnamese goods shipped to the United States will drop from as much as 60 percent to only about five percent, the same tariffs most countries pay.
Lower tariffs will be welcome news to Vietnamese businesses, which have seen exports decline since the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States.
The trade agreement also should attract more foreign investment to Vietnam. It also benefits U.S. companies by guaranteeing a level playing field in Vietnam, and ensuring trademark rights.
Besides the economic benefits, the pact has heavy symbolism. The U.S. imposed an economic embargo on communist Vietnam for two decades. The two countries only established full diplomatic relations in 1995. Once the trade deal is final, diplomats say the two countries will be one step closer to finally putting the Vietnam War behind them.