At a dialogue with the Vietnamese business community in Hanoi on August 11, Lamy specifically applauded the progress the Southeast Asian nation has made in comprehensive institution and legal reform since its induction into the WTO nearly eight years ago on November 7, 2006.
However, like many countries Vietnam faces uphill tasks in bringing itself into full compliance with international trade rules and agreements such as those promulgated by the WTO, ASEAN Free Trade Agreement (AFTA) and Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.
Sharing his many years of experience as a negotiator of world trade agreements, Lamy was quick to point out that trade agreements should place emphasis on removing trade tariff barriers and seeking to protect the legitimate interests of consumers.
Far too much emphasis in trade negotiations is placed on protecting the interests of special interest groups, either specific businesses or industries and too little on the customers and the benefits they will receive. Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI) Chairman Vu Tien Loc in turn echoed Lamy’s views saying the protection of customers’ interests is of prime significance to Vietnam in its trade negotiations.
Matters related to protecting jobs and businesses are certainly addressed during negotiations as they significantly affect the economic landscape, but ultimately they must be balanced against the interest of customers.
As a specific example he cited the situation of the US throwing up trade barriers to the importation of seafood products from Vietnam.
“The barriers were imposed specifically by the US government to protect catfish producers, despite the fact that US customers would benefit from less expensive Vietnamese seafood products,” he said.
Speaking to the issue of open door trade, Lamy said “open door” is a national trading policy where citizens and products of foreign countries receive equal treatment with domestic citizens and products.
“It heavily affects a nation’s economic structure, but does so in a highly advantageous and beneficial manner, where each country strives to give conditions to maximise the customers’ interests. The US barriers on Vietnamese seafood do not benefit the customer,” Lamy said.
In the ongoing TPP negotiations, Vietnam has asked the US to open the door for the Vietnamese garment and footwear industry as well as initiate policies and procedures to facilitate exporting agricultural and seafood products to the market.
“However, the US has balked at the suggestion and is bent on imposing anti-dumping tariffs on Vietnamese tra fish.”
Lamy said differing from other countries in the world, the US congress has the right to approve trade agreements. Accordingly, the agreement will most likely be approved as it appears it has the support of more than two-third of congressional members.
On other trade related issues, Lamy emphasised that to remove obstacles in negotiating trade pacts, Vietnam should pay more attention to added value in lieu of import-export value.
The negotiators should also zero in on creating technical standards instead of tariffs along with paying particular attention to trade facilitation, enhancing logistic systems and harmonising legal regulations.