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By Lien Hoang
Sept. 19 — Vietnam is not on track to ratify the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) in 2016 as expected, leaving observers to wonder if the communist country is waiting for a vote from U.S. lawmakers first.
Few doubt that Vietnam ultimately will join the 12-nation trade pact that President Barack Obama hopes to finalize before leaving office, but parliament signaled it won't vote till 2017.
At a meeting Sept. 15, a Vietnamese member of parliament recommended not taking up the trade deal yet “because many countries in the world haven't approved it, so we shouldn't take the lead,” according to the National Assembly website.
Parliament meets twice a year and begins its next session Oct. 20, so not having the TPP on the agenda means legislators can't ratify it till they meet again in spring 2017.
The deal, which could represent nearly 40 percent of global economic output worth $30 trillion, is set to facilitate further growth among the 12 participating nations, including the U.S., Japan, and Peru, among others.
Analysts say this doesn't diminish Vietnam's political will, but attribute the delay to a mix of bureaucratic and strategic factors.
“It is not a rejection of TPP [by] Hanoi and simply a tactical step not to go ahead too early compared to Washington,” economist Le Dang Doanh, a former adviser to the prime minister, told Bloomberg BNA.
The delay reverses months of Vietnamese officials repeatedly expressing confidence the TPP would sail through the National Assembly by the end of the year. But in that time, the controversial trade deal has been battered by the top two U.S. presidential candidates, as well as a bipartisan slice of Congress(53 ITD, 3/18/16).
“The positive signal of ratification by the U.S. Congress could be one more condition for the Vietnamese decision makers to do the right thing,” said Nguyen Thanh Binh, director of the Business Information Center at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Binh added that the Ministry of Industry and Trade and other agencies are probably using this extra time to “collect more data” on the TPP to send to parliament.
That explanation was buttressed by a government resolution in May, which appointed the Ministry of Justice to coordinate with other ministries and provincial governments to put together omnibus legislation to implement the trade deal.
“The plan shall be reported to the government at the regular meeting in December 2016,” the resolution said.
Herb Cochran, executive director of the American Chamber of Commerce in Vietnam, was not surprised by the postponement in parliament. Cochran, who gave a TPP workshop to parliamentarians and other officials in June, referred to the government resolution in saying Vietnam will stick to a timeline for the Asia-Pacific trade agreement.
“This is not a ‘blow for TPP,” Cochran told Bloomberg BNA in an e-mail, alluding to a headline from a news service Sept. 16 that said the delay in Vietnam was a setback for Obama.
The TPP in the U.S. is being buffeted by anti-trade rhetoric on the presidential campaign trail and flat-out opposition from many congressional Democrats and labor unions. In addition, Republican leaders such as Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) have said the TPP is unlikely to get a vote this year, citing concern about issues ranging from the treatment of tobacco to the length of intellectual property protection for biologic medicines. However, analysts have said congressional action on the agreement is still possible.
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The National Assembly post about waiting on the TPP is available in Vietnamese at http://quochoi.vn/cacvilanhdao/Pages/hoat-dong.aspx?ItemID=31734.
Copyright © 2016 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
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