Vietnam embargo left almost intact
By SIMON BECK in Washington
US President Bill Clinton has taken the smallest of steps towards ending the cold war with Vietnam, but bowed to pressure from the missing-in-action (MIA) servicemen lobby to keep the 18-year-old trade embargo virtually intact.
Announcing that Vietnam had in the past two weeks made ''welcome efforts'' to provide new information on MIAs to the United States, Mr Clinton agreed to let US firms bid for infrastructure projects financed in Vietnam by the World Bank, International Monetary Fund and Asian Development Bank.
The move, although designed to appease American corporations itching to join the investment rush into the country, was attacked by a business group as ''manifestly unfair'' to both US and Vietnamese firms.
Irwin Robinson, chairman of the Vietnam-American Chamber of Commerce, said the decision would deprive US firms of ''billions of dollars in trade and investment opportunities with Vietnam, which foreign companies are rapidly taking advantage of''.
MIA pressure groups were also likely to condemn the move, maintaining that any relaxation of sanctions was a betrayal of servicemen left behind after the war.
Mr Clinton - who had hoped to proceed more quickly with the opening-up process - made another gesture to Hanoi by agreeing a further US$3.5 million in aid to help civilians disabled in the war.
However, the general trade embargo with Vietnam, under the provisions of the Trading With the Enemy Act, remains in place. This prohibits US firms from doing business in the country, and denies Vietnam Most Favoured Nation trading status, effectively denying Vietnamese goods entry into the US.
US embargoes on Cambodia and North Korea were also extended.
Mr Clinton's compromise on Vietnam logically follow the earlier decision to allow the three international lending organisations to help Hanoi rebuild the country.
Now, US companies will be able to take part in only those projects targeted by the banks.
The 50-plus US firms which have signed contracts to start doing business in Vietnam will still not be able to do so.