The US Senate Committee on Finance on July 12 held a hearing to examine a bill, introduced by US Senator Max Baucus, that will grant Viet Nam Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) status, which will pave the way for Viet Nam to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
The hearing was chaired by Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, a Senator from Iowa , together with six Committee members, namely Max Baucus, Trent Lott, Gordon Smith, Jim Bunning, Craig Thomas and Blanche Lincoln. It was attended by more than 200 delegates who represented the US Administration, businesses, organisations, assistants to US senators, and US pressmen. The Vietnamese National Assembly delegation and Vietnamese Embassy staff were also present.
In his opening statement, Committee Chairman Grassley said that if the US does not extend unconditional normal trade relations to Viet Nam, the US will not enjoy the market access benefits of its bilateral agreement with Viet Nam .
The Committee Chairman said that he received a letter of support from the US-Viet Nam WTO Coalition. The letter was signed by a number of respected Democrats and Republicans who urged the US Congress to extend PNTR to Viet Nam as soon as possible. The list includes Madeleine Albright, James Baker III, Warren Christopher, Henry Kissinger, Robert Rubin, and Colin Powell, among others.
Meanwhile, Senator Max Baucus, who sponsored the bill, coded S-3495, said that the relationship between the US and Viet Nam is about a hopeful present.
“ Vietnam’s economy is growing by more than eight percent a year. The country is committed to economic reform. It is committed to opening markets. And it is committed to reducing poverty,” he said.
Regarding Viet Nam’s WTO accession, Baucus said: “Viet Nam’s WTO accession is a big deal. It is a big commercial win for the US . It is the most economically-significant trade initiative in some years. And it commands broad political support in both chambers of Congress.”
At the hearing, Ambassador Karan K. Bhatia, Deputy US Trade Representative, presented his testimony on the bill before the Committee.
Bhatia, on behalf of the Bush Administration, testified in strong support of S. 3495, which, he said, “if enacted, will authorise the US President to grant PNTR with the US, and will help clear the way for Viet Nam to join the WTO.”
“This legislation represents another milestone in a process that began over 15 years ago, when the US restored diplomatic relations with Viet Nam,” Bhatia added.
Deputy US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Eric G. John affirmed that “the US Department of State enthusiastically supports Congressional approval of PNTR for Viet Nam.”
Meanwhile, the President of the US-Viet Nam Trade Council (USVTC), Virginia B. Foote, who is also Executive Vice President of the US-ASEAN Business Council, said that all members of the US-Viet Nam WTO Coalition “view Viet Nam’s WTO accession as extremely important to their businesses, to the bilateral economic relationship and to US-Viet Nam relations overall.”
“We urge Congress to consider S-3495 granting PNTR to Viet Nam so that we may benefit from the market access and other commitments made by Viet Nam during this accession process,” Foote added.
According to the USVTC President, the US-Viet Nam WTO Coalition is a coalition of over 120 American companies, farm groups, trade associations, veterans associations, and public interest organisations supportive of Viet Nam's accession to the WTO and the attainment of full US-Viet Nam normalisation.
Foote also said: “We have a letter signed by former US Cabinet officials and another signed by over 130 companies and associations, which I also hope can be submitted into the record today.”
During the hearing, the US Senate Committee on Finance also heard presentations by several groups that are interested in Viet Nam.