- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 4, 2001

U.S.-Vietnamese relations moved to a new level yesterday with Senate approval of an agreement normalizing trade between the two former enemies.
The Senate's 88-12 vote "represents an important step in the healing process," said Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, Montana Democrat, "a step that has been a long time in coming."
The House last month endorsed the measure, which now goes to President Bush. The administration strongly backs the trade agreement that was negotiated by the Clinton White House last year.
Under the agreement, Vietnam would benefit from the same low tariffs the United States sets for its other trading partners. In return, Vietnam is to reduce its tariffs, eliminate nontariff barriers, protect intellectual-property rights and open its markets to American service and investment companies.
The United States and Vietnam had no formal relations and limited contacts in the two decades after U.S. troops left Vietnam in 1973. President George Bush initiated cooperation in such areas as accounting for MIAs. In 1994, President Clinton lifted the trade embargo, and the next year, he established diplomatic relations. In 1998, he issued the first waiver making commercial deals with Vietnam eligible for U.S. government loans and credit guarantees.
But Vietnam has remained one of only six nations denied normal trade relations, subjecting Vietnamese goods to far higher tariffs. The other countries are Afghanistan, Cuba, North Korea, Laos and Yugoslavia.
Vietnam is the world's 14th-most-populous nation, with 80 million people, but trade with the United States was only about $1.2 billion last year. Estimates are that Vietnam's exports to the United States, mainly shrimp, coffee and light manufactured goods, could more than double with normal trade relations.
The vote on Vietnam followed congressional approval last month of a free-trade pact with Jordan. Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, top Republican on the Finance Committee, said he hoped the Vietnam vote would give momentum to efforts to pass a bill this year giving the president authority to negotiate new multinational trade agreements.
Opposition to the deal came mainly from lawmakers who asserted that Vietnam has not fully cooperated in accounting for MIAs from the Vietnam War and should not be entitled to normal trade because of its poor human rights record.
"If those who want to normalize relations with Vietnam choose to ignore the numerous human rights violations of that country, is that right?" asked Sen. Robert C. Smith, New Hampshire Republican.
Concerns were also raised by Mississippi Delta senators, who said the agreement lacked protections for the catfish industry. Vietnamese imports, said Sen. Tim Hutchinson, Arkansas Republican, are "absolutely destroying our domestic catfish industry."

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