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Would trade pact be new victory for Viets?

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WASHINGTON — It isn't exactly the Marshall Plan that reinvigorated Europe after World War II, but then that was a matter of the victor helping the vanquished. Perhaps, where Vietnam is concerned, it is a matter of winning economically that which we lost militarily.

On July 13, 2000, Vy Khoan, Vietnam's trade minister, and Charlene Barshefsky, the U.S. trade representative, signed a trade agreement. After four years of difficult negotiations, the deal will allow Vietnam the same access to the U.S. market that most other nations enjoy. Moreover, the approximate 40 percent tariffs the United States currently imposes on Vietnamese goods will drop to less than 3 percent.

President Clinton called the deal "another historic step in the process of normalization, reconciliation and healing between our two nations." Clinton is trying to push the deal through Congress before the end of his presidency, and the greatest obstacle to that goal is time. Barshefsky stated, however, that she thought there should be no great opposition in either the Senate or the House. Few would oppose any measures that gained the United States access to a market of more than 77 million people.

Experts are already predicting that the deal would mean a big boost in Vietnam's economy. According to the World Bank, exports would increase by $800 million annually. Also, hundreds of thousands of jobs will be created.

However, Thomas Siebert, the general director of American Standard Vietnam, predicts that the deal will "benefit Vietnam much more than it's going to benefit the States." This is particularly true in the near future, when the average Vietnamese cannot afford to buy American-made products. Foreign businesses looking to break into the Vietnamese market might face reluctance, and even resistance, from bureaucracies and local companies. Because Vietnam's government is still communist, the trade agreement would come under congressional review every year after it takes effect.

Many labor unions oppose this deal because they fear that the low-wage country will take manufacturing jobs from the United States. The AFL-CIO has said that it would oppose the ratification of the trade pact, claiming that the pact poses a threat to labor standards and human rights. AFL-CIO President John Sweeney said that the agreement "is missing what we've been championing — core labor standards, human rights and environmental protection. We'll be lobbying against it, that's for sure."

The White House also faces opposition from key Democrats who cite environmental standards and labor issues as the main obstacles to the agreement's ratification. Furthermore, textile manufacturers and other groups intend to lobby the administration to change the agreement to protect U.S. industries from low-priced imports.

But Senator John McCain, R-Ariz., is one of the trade agreement's most vocal sponsors in Congress. He stated that he thought the deal would help both countries step further away from the shadow of the war.


United Feature Syndicate, Inc.