- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 15, 2006

From combined dispatches

HANOI — U.S. Trade Representative Susan C. Schwab said she will “press very hard” to ensure that a bill allowing permanent normal trade relations with Vietnam passes before the Southeast Asian nation’s entry into the World Trade Organization.

Meanwhile, Cabinet ministers from the 21-member Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum decided yesterday to shelve plans for an ambitious Pacific Rim free-trade area for another year, officials said.

The U.S. legislation, known as PNTR, failed to generate a required two-thirds margin in the House Monday night. Republican leaders in the House yesterday delayed plans to hold a second vote this week, saying they are looking at bringing the bill up later this year.

Passage of the bill would guarantee that U.S. companies receive the same access to the Vietnamese market as competitors from other countries upon WTO accession, expected by January. The administration of President Bush, who is scheduled to arrive in Vietnam later in the week, is lobbying for the bill.

“We are disappointed that the Congress was not able to enact PNTR,” Mrs. Schwab said in Hanoi yesterday. “We will continue to press very hard to see that enactment takes place before Vietnam joins the WTO.”

The U.S. trade office is confident the bill will be passed in early December when the House is expected to return to session, Mrs. Schwab said.

For Vietnam to become a WTO member, the country’s National Assembly must ratify its accession package, which is expected to take place by Dec. 5, according to the WTO. Vietnam becomes a member 30 days after notifying the WTO that the package has been ratified, which means membership is likely by early January.

The U.S. proposal for a vast free-trade area sparked robust debate at APEC’s opening session in Vietnam’s capital, Japan’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Mitsuo Sakaba told reporters.

“After lengthy debate, the chair concluded that it should be studied as a long-term objective and report the result of that study to the next meeting in Australia,” he said.

Business leaders had supported an Asia-Pacific Free Trade Agreement as a way of consolidating the dozens of bilateral and regional free-trade agreements that have proliferated in recent years in the region.

An APEC vision of a vast free-trade area along the Pacific Rim, which accounts for nearly half of world trade and generates 70 percent of economic growth, had lost considerable momentum to a plethora of minideals.

APEC now will devote its energies to an early resumption of the Doha round of global trade talks, which collapsed in July amid clashes over subsidies and tariffs for farm goods, the Japanese foreign ministry spokesman said.

Mr. Sakaba said APEC ministers, while abandoning the grand Asia-Pacific FTA, would continue working on “model measures” that could be standardized in free-trade agreements.

Those measures include commodities, government procurement, trade barriers, transparency and cooperative programs, such as training.

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