- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 1, 2001

Open for business

Le Van Bang insists communist Vietnam is ready for capitalism.

The Vietnamese ambassador says his country is open for business with the United States and hopes for swift passage of the U.S.-Vietnamese trade agreement to slash import tariffs.

Mr. Le told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce that Vietnam wants to include the United States among the 72 nations with which it has "most-favored-nation" trade pacts.

He said the U.S.-Vietnamese trade agreement would cut tariffs to about 4 percent from the 30 percent to 40 percent rate now in force in both nations.

"Such dramatic reductions will benefit all industries," he told the chamber's Asian Insider newsletter.

"As for the United States, industries providing capital goods used as input for the Vietnamese manufacturing sector stand to benefit greatly."

He said the current trade between the two nations is "modest at just over $900 million" and U.S. direct investment in Vietnam "is barely $1.4 billion."

"The expansion in economic and trade relations will bring along and facilitate U.S.-Vietnamese cooperation in other fields such as science, technology, education, health, culture, arts and so on," he said.

"All of these activities will, in return, help consolidate, expand and develop bilateral relations and help solve legacies of war like MIAs, unexploded bombs and mines and victims of Agent Orange," he added, referring to U.S. troops still listed as missing in action and other issues from the Vietnam War.

The trade agreement was signed by the Clinton administration in July and still must be approved by Congress. In Vietnam, the agreement must be ratified by the National Assembly, Mr. Le said.

He said his government is taking steps to reform laws to protect private property and foreign investment.

Mr. Le recognized that opening Vietnam to U.S. investment will present a "major challenge to the government, its agencies as well as the business community."

"Our government clearly perceives this and is ready to face that challenge and will do everything possible to see to the implementation of the agreement," he said.

The chamber promised to "play a lead role" in lobbying Congress for passage of the agreement.

Reassuring Ireland

Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen felt reassured yesterday that President Bush will continue President Clinton's efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland.

The White House "confirmed the president's personal interest in the Irish issue," Mr. Cowen told reporters after talks with National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice.

"His interest is genuine and it's continuing, and we are very reassured by that," Mr. Cowen said.

Mr. Bush is looking forward to meeting Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, who is due in Washington for St. Patrick's Day.

Press club diplomacy

The National Press Club is at the center of Latin American foreign policy this week.

President Francisco Flores of El Salvador holds a news conference at noon today in the club's Zenger Room, and Foreign Minister Heinz Moeller of Ecuador holds a 9 a.m. news conference tomorrow in the First Amendment Lounge.

Foreign Minister Soledad Alvear of Chile met reporters yesterday.

With all the concentration on this hemisphere, Peter Pennekamp of the Netherlands looks a little out of place. The undersecretary of health, welfare and sports holds a 9 a.m. news conference today in the First Amendment Lounge.

He will discuss the Netherlands' liberal drug policies.

Mr. Pennekamp should have come next week, when Europe will be in the spotlight with representatives of the European Union here to meet with their counterparts in the new Bush administration.

Swedish Foreign Minister Anna Lindh, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, will hold a news conference Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in the First Amendment Lounge.

She will be accompanied by Chris Patten, the commissioner for external affairs, and Javier Solana, the high representative for foreign and security policy.

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