Vietnam's National Assembly has approved a landmark agreement to normalize trade relations with the United States. The bilateral agreement has heavy symbolic value for the former enemies, but also great economic importance.

Vietnam's National Assembly members voted 278 to 85 to approve the long-awaited trade pact. The agreement, which takes effect next year, puts communist Vietnam on the same trade footing with the United States as most other nations for the first time in 25 years.

The trade agreement took more than five years to negotiate, and was hailed Wednesday as good for both countries. Vietnamese Trade Minister Vu Khoan called it a "victory for our people" that promises to boost exports, even as the world suffers an economic slowdown.

Even after the United States lifted its economic embargo on Vietnam in 1994, it did not grant the country normal trade relations status. That kept U.S. import taxes higher than for most countries. Now that the tariffs are set to drop, Vietnamese exporters should be able to compete with other nations in the region in the world's largest consumer market.

The trade agreement still drew some debate in Vietnam's parliament, though, especially over what members saw as continued U.S. interference and protectionism.

Vietnamese lawmakers condemned a resolution passed earlier this year by the U.S. House of Representatives that would have linked foreign aid with Vietnam's human rights record. The resolution has not become law, but Vietnamese officials still decried it as gross interference.

The trade agreement will quickly cut U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese goods from as high as 60 percent to around 4 percent. It commits Vietnam to gradually opening its markets to U.S. companies, particularly in the areas of finance, telecommunications and technology.