As it nears adjournment for the year, the House of Representatives has approved a legislative trade package that includes a provision establishing Permanent Normal Trade Relations [PNTR] with Vietnam by a vote 212 to 184. VOA's Dan Robinson reports on debate accompanying the legislation which also covers trade issues between the United States and South America, Africa, and Haiti.

In a flurry of last-minute activity, lawmakers needed to pass the huge trade bill which includes approval of normal trade relations with Vietnam, a former enemy which now has two-way trade with the U.S. of about eight billion dollars.

Other provisions extend trade preferences for four Andean countries, and address export issues with sub-Saharan African countries and Haiti.

Vietnam would be exempted from annual human rights and immigration-related reviews, and make it easier for the U.S. to benefit from lower tariffs once Vietnam enters the World Trade Organization.

Lawmakers who believe PNTR will in the long-run help rights conditions in Vietnam argued with those opposing it on human rights and economic grounds.

Republican Congressman David Dreier says the step will not be a panacea [cure-all], but will promote change. "Normalizing trade with Vietnam is an important step toward enhancing our ability to engage with Vietnam, and encourage continued progress in the areas of economic and political liberalization," he said.

Republican Dana Rohrabacher strongly disagreed. "Until there is some reform that shows they are going in the right direction, it is wrong, morally wrong, for us to extend this PNTR status for this type of dictatorship," he said.

In the Senate, which still must act on the trade bill, Republican Mel Martinez focused on religious freedom. "It would be good for the government of Vietnam to understand that tolerance as it relates to people's willingness to practice religion as they see fit, it's important to join the family of nations in a full and complete way," he said.

Ohio Democrat Dennis Kucinich argues that PNTR will subject Vietnam's people to economic difficulties. "It could cause millions of peasants to be thrown off their land as agricultural supports are withdrawn. It can cause million of workers to lose their jobs as state enterprises wither in the face of foreign competition or downsize and speed up operations in an effort to stay competitive," he said.

There was also strong debate on legislation enabling Haiti to use third-country fabrics for duty-free finished textiles shipped to the U.S.

Democrat Charles Rangel favored it, saying "if there is any country in the world that has suffered it has been the people in Haiti."

But Republican Robin Hayes, from textile-producing North Carolina, argued that any advantages Haiti receives would benefit China.

"This does not help Haitians. This helps the Chinese," he said.

Senate action on the large trade measure would send it to President Bush's desk where he could claim it as a success in a frustrating year that saw his party lose control of Congress.

The president also expects to be able to sign, after final congressional approval, legislation required as part of steps to implement a civilian nuclear cooperation deal with India.