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American businesses, large and small, are testing the limits of how far they can pursue business opportunities in Vietnam without breaking U.S. law forbidding trade with the Southeast Asian country. They can discuss a deal, sign a vague letter of intent and step up to the plate. Then wham, they strike out against aggressive French, Japanese, Taiwanese, Australian and other foreign business interests, unfettered by any trade ban.

Is this any way to be competitive in a global economy? Indeed not, yet the Bush administration repeatedly has turned a deaf ear to pleas from American business to lift the 17-year trade embargo against Vietnam. The Vietnamese like and want to do business with Americans and buy U.S. goods. A similar trading ban against Cambodia was lifted after a Cambodia peace settlement was signed in Paris last October.Much has changed since 1975 when the last fleeing helicopter left the roof of the U.S. Embassy in Vietnam. Today the United States stands alone in its trade ban against Hanoi. That punishes U.S. businesses more than the Vietnamese government. New realities call for lifting of the trade ban.