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Vietnam Rights Still Obstacle to TPP Membership

FILE - Anti-China protester surrounded by police in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 18, 2014 (Marianne Brown/VOA)
FILE - Anti-China protester surrounded by police in Hanoi, Vietnam, May 18, 2014 (Marianne Brown/VOA)

Vietnam is still facing challenges in its bid to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), despite optimism following 10 days of multi-national trade talks in Hanoi.

The partnership's negotiators completed their meetings in Vietnam Wednesday saying they had resolved many issues and continued to narrow the gap in other areas.

Negotiator Barbara Weisel of the United States said they are committed to a focused work plan which will allow them to "boost momentum and make continued progress.”

But a senior economic adviser for the general secretary of Vietnam's Communist Party, Le Dang Doanh, says the biggest obstacle for Vietnam remains unresolved. He told VOA's Vietnamese service that there has been no sign that Hanoi will compromise on the issues of human rights, labor rights and independent trade unions.

"TPP includes new and extremely difficult conditions such as opening up markets, property rights-related issues, issues related to state-owned enterprises, or in the case of Vietnam, the right to establish independent trade unions. Up to now, Vietnam has shown no signs of compromising on this. Vietnam has never wanted to make changes regarding this issue," said Doanh.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership requires members to adopt strong labor provisions, including freedom of association, allowances for collective bargaining and zero tolerance for child and forced labor. U.S. lawmakers have stressed that Vietnam should not be granted TPP membership until it makes significant labor and human rights reforms.

Le says it would be in his country's interest to make changes, but gradually.

“I think there should be a roadmap towards allowing independent and competitive trade unions to help protect workers’ legitimate and essential rights," he said. "With Vietnam, there should be a certain roadmap on this issue so that Vietnam should have enough time to adapt itself to those changes."

Next week, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman will meet in Washington with Vietnamese Deputy Prime Minister Ninh. The next round of TPP talks has yet to be scheduled.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.