July 14, 2006

Business presses for quick vote on Vietnam deal

By Doug Palmer

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. business groups, worried that a
Vietnam trade deal will be delayed by election year politics,
are pushing for votes in Congress before the August recess or
soon afterward.

"If this thing gets bogged down in the fall and we have to
wait until next session, U.S. business and U.S. agriculture
loses," Brad Figel, global director of government and public
affairs for sportswear company Nike Inc., told reporters on

Vietnam, the fastest-growing economy in Southeast Asia, has
agreed to cut agricultural and industrial tariffs and to open
up more than 100 services sectors including banking, insurance,
and telecommunications as part of a deal with the United States
to join the World Trade Organization.

As its part of the bargain, the United States must approve
"permanent normal trade relations" with Hanoi.

Vietnam, like others on the dwindling list of communist
countries, is subject to a Cold War provision known as
Jackson-Vanik, which ties U.S. trade relations to emigration
and other human rights concerns.

"Very simply, we have to repeal the Jackson-Vanik amendment
in order to get the benefits," said Scott Miller, director of
global trade policy for consumer products company Procter &
Gamble Co.

Unlike most trade bills, the Vietnam PNTR legislation can
be amended, creating the possibility it could become a vehicle
for a variety of amendments. Senate Finance Committee Chairman
Charles Grassley, an Iowa Republican, wants a deal to limit the
number of amendments before beginning action on the bill.

Meanwhile, House Republicans have been reluctant to vote on
Vietnam until other less popular trade pacts with Oman and Peru
are approved.

"We do worry if this bill slips into September" it could be
more difficult to get approved ahead of November elections,
said Virginia Foote, president of the U.S.-Vietnam Trade

Hanoi's goal is to be a WTO member by the time it hosts
President George W. Bush and other leaders for the annual Asia
Pacific Economic Cooperation summit in November.

"Vietnam has broad support, so I think we are quite
confident when we get to the floor we'll be fine. It's getting
to the floor that's the challenge," Foote said.