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WTO membership brings both opportunities, challenges to Vietnam

World Trade Organisation (WTO) membership is neither an elixir nor a trap for Viet Nam’s economy, many economists and managements said.

Former Trade Minister Truong Dinh Tuyen, who played an important role in the country’s WTO negotiations, said joining WTO did not mean the economy would see an immediate boom but it is obvious that opportunities abound. “Whether we can seize these opportunities or not depends on ourselves,” he said.

The most obvious result Viet Nam has made one year after its WTO joining was the record attraction of 20.3 billion USD in foreign investment capital and 5.4 billion USD in official development assistance (ODA). Domestic investment also surged 20 percent while export turnover hit 48.4 billion USD.

Foreign experts said WTO membership has helped Viet Nam become prominent on the world investment map, but it was only another landmark inthe country’s economic reform process that began 20 years ago.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) Country Director Ayumi Konishi told the Viet Nam News Agency that everything in Viet Nam would not change in the blink of an eye after the country joined the WTO. The important thing is how to take full advantage of opportunities coming from the opening of the market to achieve a more sustainable growth, he said.

Meanwhile, local economists expressed their worries about the economy’s ability to absorb the flow of capital, an increasing trade deficit and escalating prices – factors that would diminish economic growth.

One of the suggested solutions is direct investment towards fields that are necessary for the economy’s competence development such as the production of materials and accessories and animal foods. In addition, improvement of human resources and infrastructure is also an urgent task to meet the requirements of multi-million USD projects booming in Viet Nam.

According to Luong Van Tu, former Trade Deputy Minister and Head of Viet Nam’s WTO negotiation delegation, Viet Nam lacks policies on developing potential products to replace import. “Businesses must change their ways of thinking and make products of high quality to dominate the local market,” he said.

Tu said many local businesses have taken initiative to join the game, particularly to ally with each other to increase their competitiveness and change their policies to attract labourers. Still, he called on businesses to be more active and not to rely on the State. “We have to fight for our benefits that never come suddenly to us,” he said.

Tu also said the State should give equal incentives to both domestic and foreign-invested businesses, and assist local enterprises in designing development plans.

Three websites have been launched this month to provide information about the implementation of WTO commitments, trade, trade barriers, food safety in Viet Nam and other member countries in order to make it easier for businesses and sectors in mapping out their strategies.

Economists pointed to a lack of policies making use of legal protective measures set by the WTO to facilitate the economic integration. They particularly mentioned agriculture, rural areas and farmers as the most vulnerable as the country integrate into the global economy.

As a WTO member, Viet Nam has obligations to contribute to the common development of this international organisation, first of all the promotion of the standstill Doha negotiation round, which is scheduled to resume in January 2008.

Ambassador Ngo Quang Xuan, Head of the Vietnamese mission to international organisations in Geneva, said the participation in the negotiation round is aimed both at protecting Viet Nam’s interests in implementing commitments, and fulfilling the country’s WTO membership obligations. So, “if ministries and agencies do not make good preparation for negotiations, Viet Nam will be at a disadvantage,” he said. (VOV)

 
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