Better late than never

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 January, 1994, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 January, 1994, 12:00am

LAST week's US Senate decision that the trade embargo with Vietnam should be lifted represents a very, very late conversion to reason.

The Senate has finally asked President Bill Clinton to lift the embargo. However, the credit attributable to the senators for the move is negligible.

After six years of welcoming foreign companies with open arms, the country is crawling with foreign firms staking out their patch in the economy. And not only those from Europe and Japan.

Tourists who two weeks ago visited that most potent symbol of the fall of South Vietnam, Reunification Hall, were amazed to find that Peregrine Investment had rented the gate-house for a property exhibition.

Travellers in remote regions who come across haggard figures staggering out of the jungle will realise they have found European experts helping to map Vietnam's substantial mineral reserves, rather than MIAs newly escaped from secret Viet Cong prison camps.

Had they relaxed the embargo three years ago, when the country was in dire need of foreign investment and technology, the Americans would have received a warm welcome.

But since then, the country has registered three years of economic growth in excess of seven per cent, while suppressing inflation to below six per cent.

This, incidentally, makes Vietnam one of a handful of countries worldwide with a growth rate higher than its inflation rate.

Now, American companies will find the going tough, as a number of them have already commented. And no one should shed any tears for them.

The US Government continues to treat Vietnam as a pawn in a political game, rather than a country in Asia, and a tough time is exactly what most American business deserves.

With a few very notable exceptions, most American businesses have preferred to devote their considerable lobbying power to other issues, such as punishing existing trading partners for perceived wrongdoing, rather than trying to find new ones.

Had the Senate called for the lifting of sanctions three years ago, it would have been a brave move. At this late stage, it looks like an attempt to disguise its past collective inaction.