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August 7, 2003

Vietnam reforms 'too slow'

Vietnam's hopes of joining the World Trade Organisation have been given a boost by World Bank and US officials.

(BBC) - However, they stressed that Communist-ruled Vietnam needs to do more to open up its markets and reform its economy to meet its goal of joining by 2005.

World Bank Managing Director Shengman Zhang has completed four days of meetings with Vietnamese government officials.

"The World Bank fully supports Vietnam's ambitious goal of becoming a WTO member by the end of 2005", he said in statement cited by French news agency Agence France Presse.

'Speed up'

But he warned that the target date means Vietnam "has to take prompt action in order complete accelerated market reforms in the next two years."

The top US diplomat in Vietnam has praised the progress made in trade relations but added that reforms were not proceeding "fast enough to meet Vietnam's WTO accession goal".

US charge d'affaires in Vietnam Robert Porter made his remarks during a two-day seminar that coincided with the World Bank visit.

Vietnam signed a bilateral trade agreement (BTA) with the US in July 2000, five years after the two former enemies renewed diplomatic relations, frozen since the US defeat in the Vietnam war.

The trade pact has been widely seen as paving the way to Vietnam's WTO entry.

Catfish fight

Mr Porter said the pact was working well, but urged Vietnam to extend tariff cuts on imports and agree trade deals with more WTO members.

"Without faster liberalisation Vietnam will continue to lag behind its neighbours," said Mr Porter. "Vietnam needs to look at the BDA as a starting point, not an end point, for its multilateral negations," he said.

Vietnam's eventual membership of the WTO has also received backing from the European Union, which sent a delegation to discuss it last year.

The World Bank said it "stands ready to assist in whatever way we can, with customs modernization and the design of a 'road map' for WTO accession".

US trade officials last month voted to slap higher tariffs on Vietnamese farmed catfish, saying they were being dumped on the US market at unfair prices.

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