The Militant (logo)  
   Vol. 70/No. 46           December 4, 2006  
U.S. Congress blocks bill to
normalize trade ties with Vietnam
(front page)
On the eve of U.S. president George Bush’s trip to Hanoi, Vietnam, for the November 18-19 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, a bill to normalize U.S. trade with that Southeast Asian nation was defeated in U.S. Congress.

The proposed legislation would have extended to Vietnam the same Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status the United States has with most other countries. Currently, under the Jackson-Vanik Amendment, Vietnam is granted such status on a conditional basis, subject to an annual review by the U.S. government of certain political and economic practices.

The Congressional vote on the Vietnam trade bill was 228 in favor and 161 against, short of the two-thirds majority required for expedited passage. The White House argued that granting normal trade rights to Vietnam would force that nation to open up to more capitalist investment and imports. Opponents, led by the Democratic Party, countered with a protectionist line, backed by the AFL-CIO officialdom, that the bill would threaten “American jobs” such as those in the garment and textile industries.

Washington imposed a trade embargo on Vietnam in 1975 after the workers and peasants of that country defeated the invading U.S. military force. A revolution in Vietnam had overturned capitalist property relations in the north in the late 1950s, after defeating the French imperialist occupation, and extended this workers state in the south in the late 1970s. It was only in 1994 that Washington ended the trade embargo against Vietnam, resuming full diplomatic relations the following year, but certain trade restrictions were maintained. In 2001 the two governments signed an agreement extending Vietnam conditional Normal Trade Relations status. U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese-made apparel were decreased.

Washington has continued, however, to impose protectionist restrictions on some Vietnamese imports such as shrimp and catfish. Today Vietnam exports more to the United States than to any other country—$6 billion in exports in 2005. It imports $1 billion in U.S. products a year.

Those in the U.S. ruling class favoring the bill were anxious to get in on the possibilities for investment in what they describe as one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. This year Vietnam’s gross domestic product is projected to increase by more than 8 percent, faster than any other Asian country except China, according to the International Herald Tribune. Vietnam, recently admitted to the World Trade Organization (WTO), is now the world’s second-largest exporter of rice. Its biggest exports are oil and coal, followed by garments.

A November 15 briefing by the Strategic Forecasting Inc. (Stratfor) reported that “Intel recently announced a $1 billion plan to build what it calls the world’s largest semiconductor assembly and test facility in Ho Chi Minh City. In 2005, Vietnam ranked No. 4 among Asian-Pacific countries in the number of new foreign investment projects…beating out Hong Kong, Thailand, the Philippines and South Korea.”

At the same time, Vietnamese workers and farmers remain largely impoverished. Average per capita income is less than US$1.80 per day.

Stratfor also noted that “Hanoi still hangs on tightly to business operations in the country [and] the banking system remains tightly controlled by the government,” referring to the fact that Vietnam remains a workers state. The article added that the Vietnamese regime, however, “is making efforts to solve these problems. In 2000, the government passed an enterprise law that significantly boosted the creation of private businesses.” With its admission to the WTO, Hanoi will be required to further reduce trade barriers and subsidies on its products.  
Aims of Hanoi summit
At the summit meeting in Hanoi, Washington pressed for APEC members to remove protective barriers to U.S. goods.

The 21 members of APEC include the imperialist countries of Australia, New Zealand, Japan, Canada, and the United States; 12 semicolonial countries in Asia, the Pacific, and on the Pacific coast of Latin America; and three workers’ states, China, Vietnam, and Russia. Hong Kong, a former British colony returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, is also a member.

APEC members adopted a “Hanoi Declaration” that included a section calling on the renewal of WTO talks, known as the Doha round, aimed at reducing trade barriers. Talks on that issue fell apart last July over differences between imperialist governments unwilling to reduce subsidies to capitalist farmers—measures allowing them to “dump” food on semicolonial countries at prices lower than local farmers can charge—and semicolonial countries resistant to lowering tariffs on imports.

At the close of the APEC conference, following a meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, U.S. president George Bush announced that Washington was signing an agreement to back Moscow’s membership in the WTO. Russian economy minister German Gref said the agreement marked “the return of Russia to the market principles of the world economy.”

Washington used the APEC summit to try to line up more support for United Nations-approved sanctions against north Korea. U.S. officials had hoped the summit would produce a written document condemning the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for carrying out a nuclear weapons test in October. Instead, they got a verbal statement by Vietnamese president Nguyen Minh Triet, chair of this year’s summit, in which he endorsed the sanctions and called the test “a clear threat to our shared interest of peace and security.”

Washington failed to get south Korea’s commitment to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). Under that program, Washington and its allies assert the right to stop and board ships on the high seas originating from a list of counties, including the DPRK, that they deem to be of nuclear “proliferation concern.”

South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun told reporters his government would not agree to board north Korean vessels, but would “support the principles and goals of PSI.”
Related articles:
French forces board north Korean ship  
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