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While Bush vows commitment to Asia, US-Vietnam tie faces minor setback ahead of Summit

Updated On: Nov 17, 2006

Bush’s coming visit to Vietnam suffered a blip even before it begins.

On Monday, the US House of Representatives voted against decision to normalize trade relations with Vietnam.  The legislation known as the Permanent Normal Trading Relations (PNTR) is unlikely to be reconsidered until next month.

US Congress needs to approve PNTR with Vietnam for US farmers, bankers and other businesses to share in the market-opening benefits of Hanoi’s entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO) next month. Vietnam was approved last week to become the 150th member of the WTO.

The defeat of the bill has overshadowed efforts to ensure that Bush’s visit to Vietnam would be a success, including Vietnam’s removal on Monday from the US list of countries of particular concerns on religious issues.

“It is very regrettable that the US House of Representative has not approved the bill…the defeat failed to meet with the interest and aspiration of the two countries, especially the interest of US business” said the spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Ministry, Le Dung. He added that they “hope that the US Congress will approve PNTR to Vietnam at an early date, thus contributing to promoting relations between the two countries.”

As a reassurance that bilateral ties between Vietnam and US would continue to grow, US Secretary of State, Condi Rice told her Vietnamese hosts that the USadministration would push for the normalization of trade relations.  Further reassurance comes from President Bush himself in a major speech he delivered inSingapore, the day before he proceeded to Hanoi.

In his first major foreign policy speech after suffering a major setback in mid-term elections which resulted in the Republicans’ loss of control of both Houses in the US Congress, Bush sent out a strong message on US commitment to Asia and in promoting free trade.  While calling on Asian countries to help put the stalled Doharound of global talk back on track, he also gave US backing for a proposal to create an FTA for the Asia-Pacific region.

The calls for global trade talks to resume were repeated in the ministerial meetings that were already taking place in Hanoi now.  WTO Director-General, Pascal Lamy, was there for this purpose.  However, perhaps as an indication of the difficulties in reviving the Doha round, APEC ministers seemed to be more focused on the alternative that envisaged an APEC-wide FTA.

Besides trade issues, APEC ministers also called for the return to the six-party talks to deal with the North Korean nuclear issue.  Another positive spin-off from the APEC meetings is perhaps the informal bilateral meeting between the Chinese and Japanese foreign ministers that led to the announcement that both China and Japanhave agreed to conduct a joint study of disputed history.

Sources:

Bush to arrive in Vietnam without trade promise (Straits Times, 16 November 2006)

Apec states keen to break deadlock in global trade talks (Straits Times, 16 November 2006)

‘No’ vote on Viet trade Bill a blow for Hanoi-bound Bush (Straits Times, 15 November 2006)

Big guns at Hanoi’s coming-out party (Straits Times, 15 November 2006)

Apec leaders to call for revival of WTO trade talks (Straits Times, 14 November 2006)

Vietnam sees many changes on trade front (Thanh Nien News, 14 November 2006)

APEC 14 to witness deeper co-operation: President Triet (Nhan Dan, 13 November 2006)

WTO leader in Vietnam, assures help against teething troubles (Thanh Nien News, 15 November 2006)

WTO accession contributes to nation and world: PM (Nhan Dan, 16 November 2006)

More than unilateral push needed to revive Doha round (Thanh Nien News, 15 November 2006)

US house won’t revote this week on Vietnam (Thanh Nien News, 15 November 2006)

Vietnam regrets defeat of US trade bill, hopes for new vote soon (Thanh Nien News, 14 November 2006)

APEC calls for global trade talks to resume soon (Straits Times, 17 November 2006)

Bush vows commitment to Asia (Straits Times, 17 November 2006)