U.S.-Vietnam basic accord clears major hurdle to TPP deal

The United States and Vietnam have reached a basic accord on market access and reforms of state-owned enterprises in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade negotiations, clearing a major hurdle toward an overall agreement, negotiation sources said Saturday.

Seeking to conclude a comprehensive free trade agreement by year-end, the 12 TPP member countries are negotiating on 21 fields, ranging from government procurement rules for public works projects to fishing subsidies.

The United States and Vietnam reached the accord at a minister-level bilateral session in Brunei in late August, the sources said. They now aim to reaffirm their policy of accelerating negotiations during a four-day meeting of chief negotiators from Wednesday in Washington, they added.

The 10 other TPP members are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.

In Brunei, Washington agreed to open up its textile and apparel markets to Vietnam while Hanoi offered to scrap preferential treatment for state-owned firms in the Southeast Asian country, they said.

In a bid to protect its domestic textile and apparel industry, the United States previously insisted that all products in a garment, including the fiber or yarn, must be made in TPP member countries, thereby denying duty-free access to products made with materials imported from non-TPP countries such as China.

However, Washington agreed to greatly increase the number of duty-free Vietnamese textile and apparel items treated as exceptions, effectively freeing up its markets.

In return, Vietnam pledged to carry out reforms to treat Vietnamese state-owned firms and foreign private companies equally after a five-year transition period.