Vietnam on Jan. 11 became the 150th member of the World Trade Organization (WTO), a milestone expected to launch an era of radical change as the communist nation enters the global economic mainstream.
WTO membership comes more than 30 years after the end of the Vietnam War and 20 years after the regime abandoned strict Soviet-style central planning for gradual "doi moi" (renewal) market reforms.
Under its membership terms, hammered out with the U.S., other trade partners and the WTO over more than a decade, Vietnam must scrap a range of tariffs, subsidies and other barriers that protect local industries. In return, Vietnam -- a major exporter of oil, textiles, footwear, rice, seafood and coffee -- will face fewer hurdles in selling its goods abroad and have recourse through the WTO in case of trade disputes.
Southeast Asia's second most populous country after Indonesia hopes its new status as a signed-up member of the international trading system will accelerate rapid economic growth which is second in East Asia only to China.
"Joining the WTO will mean for Vietnam the start of a new phase of reform. It should lead to very dynamic and hopeful development. Of course, there are opportunities and there are challenges," said Le Dang Doanh, a senior economist at the ministry of planning and investment.
Today, many investors tout Vietnam as a "China-lite," which last year booked economic growth of 8.2% and drew $9.5 billion in foreign investment. But experts warn that Vietnam must now follow through on the commitments it has made to the WTO through hundreds of new laws, from protecting the rights of foreign companies to cracking down on copyright piracy.
Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007