- The Washington Times - Monday, December 10, 2001

HANOI A delegation of 80 Vietnamese executives, American businessmen and senior Vietnamese trade and investment officials is in Washington this week to jump-start a new trade accord and urge disenchanted U.S. businesses to take a second look at Vietnam.
The 130-page trade agreement, ratified by the Vietnamese legislature less than two weeks ago after years of negotiations, "enables us to gain access to the world's biggest market for Vietnamese exports," said Tran Xuan Gia, the minister of planning and investment.
U.S. companies will benefit from the accord, but the effects will be felt more strongly in Vietnam, where apparel and manufacturing industries hope to boost exports by nearly a $1 billion a year as U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese-made products drop from 40 percent to 4 percent.
"We are here to open a major new representative office in New York to promote Vietnam's garments and textiles. We also plan to open other US offices in 2002," said Le Quoc An, chairman of the Vietnam Textile and Garment Association.
The visiting officials are well aware that despite the pool of well educated and cheap Vietnamese labor, China has proven to be a far more powerful magnet for foreign investment. And with China's entry into the World Trade Organization, the competition will become even more intense.
At the annual Hanoi Vietnam Business Forum held last week, many attendees, including Peter Ryder, chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce, reaffirmed the need for Vietnam to bolster its image abroad.
The trade pact is expected to force reforms upon the often Byzantine management practices of Vietnam's state-owned enterprises.
Under the leadership of Nong Duc Manh, Vietnam's newly installed Communist Party leader, the National Assembly recognizes the need to step up its reforms and jump into the turbulent free market waters.
Vietnam witnessed the birth of over 28,000 new business operations following the passage of an enterprise law last year, some of the outfits now employing several thousand people. Despite a sharp downturn in the Asian economies, new foreign investment in Vietnam amounted to $2 billion this year, up almost 35 percent from last year.
The World Bank's International Finance Corp. (IFC) signaled its belief in Vietnam's seriousness by signing three investment agreements for projects worth $137 million.
The World Bank estimates that Vietnam's exports to the United States could increase 30 percent to over $1.6 billion next year.

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