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Q & A : Assessing Immediate Effects on U.S.-Vietnam Relations

President Clinton’s decision to lift the trade embargo against Vietnam will affect U.S.-Vietnam relations in a variety of ways. Here are answers to some immediate questions raised by the President’s action Thursday.

Q. Now that the 19-year-old embargo has been lifted, what will happen?

A. American businesses are free to trade and invest in Vietnam.

Q. How will this affect those of us who live in Orange County?

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A. In many ways: more international trade for businesses here; more travel, communication and financial transactions between the two countries; U.S. visitors to Vietnam will have fewer hassles with credit cards and find a bigger U.S. presence there; Vietnamese coming to the United States may face fewer barriers and complications as well.

Q. Does this mean we are establishing full diplomatic relations and that the two countries will exchange ambassadors?

A. No, there are many steps left toward normalization, both economic and diplomatic. The United States is only establishing a “liaison office.” This office will assist relations between the two countries and assist U.S. firms doing business.

But there remain many laws and restrictions on trade. For instance, this does not give Vietnam any preferential treatment on trade issues such as “most favored nation” status.

Q. Will the lifting of the trade embargo make it less complicated for people to travel to Vietnam?

A. No. Despite President Clinton’s action, the United States and Vietnam have not resumed diplomatic relations. Consequently, travelers to Vietnam still won’t be able to get a tourist visa anywhere in the United States.

Instead, an application must be made through a travel agency or the Permanent Mission of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam to the United Nations. The request is then forwarded to the Vietnamese consulate in Canada for approval.

Finally, if approved, the visa is mailed back to the applicant in the United States. All told, the process takes several weeks. However, officials at the Vietnamese Mission hope to begin issuing visas when and if full normalization occurs.

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Q. Will it now be easier to travel from Vietnam to the United States?

A. It is still unclear how that will be affected. Since the President’s action was basically a unilateral move on the part of the United States, it is too early to tell whether Vietnam will also eventually ease travel restrictions for its nationals.

Q. Will it be possible to fly direct from the United States to Vietnam?

A. United Airlines plans to start offering flights between Los Angeles International Airport and Tan) Son Nhut Airport in Ho Chi Minh City as soon as it can obtain the necessary government approvals. Due to the great distance, the flights will include a stopover.

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The Chicago-based airline inherited the rights to the route when it bought Pan American Airlines in 1986. United officials must now seek the corresponding operating authority from the government of Vietnam.

Now that the embargo has been lifted, there are no U.S. regulations prohibiting United from starting service to Vietnam.

Q. Will Vietnamese Americans be able to arrange for relatives to immigrate?

A. Until full diplomatic ties are established, strict sponsorship rules still apply. Only a U.S. citizen can petition Vietnam for permission to let a relative come overseas, and only if it is a member of their immediate family. The process is lengthy and can take from 90 days to 10 years, depending on the individual case.

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Q. How will the lifting of the embargo affect financial transactions?

A. For one thing, Americans will now be able to use credit cards to purchase goods in Vietnam. Under the embargo, such transactions were prohibited. If a credit card was issued by a U.S. bank, Vietnamese residents in the United States have been able to make direct money transfers to relatives in Vietnam since May, 1992. Many establishments already accept Visa cards issued by non-American banks. Sometime today, American Express is expected to sign an agreement in Hanoi that will permit the use of their charge card in Vietnam.

Q. How will the embargo affect cultural ties between the United States and Vietnam?

A. Many observers believe it is still too early to tell. Cultural exchanges between the two countries have already been occurring on a small scale and there has been a steady easing of restrictions on educational exchange programs. Pirated copies of American-made pop music and videos are already sold on the black market in Vietnam. Conversely, videos produced in Vietnam are readily available now in Little Saigon. However, the lifting of the embargo would allow such companies to export a far greater volume of product.

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Q. Which American companies are most likely to benefit?

A. It truly runs the gamut, but manufacturing, construction and telecommunications companies head the list. Several Fortune 500 companies have been in Vietnam for months, setting up offices and obtaining the necessary business licenses. Now, these companies have a leg up on the competition and may begin conducting business freely.

Q. What needs to happen before the two countries normalize relations?

A. At a White House briefing, officials declined to speculate as to when formal diplomatic relations might be established but the President has said it would only happen once he is satisfied that the POW/MIA issue is resolved. He said the new U.S. liaison office would also continue to monitor human rights violations.

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Other negotiations will be ongoing. For example, American and Vietnamese representatives are expected to meet Feb. 15-16 in Hanoi in an attempt to resolve U.S. claims against Vietnam for American property seized by the Vietnamese government.

Q. Can citizens now send mail or packages to Vietnam via private postal services or must they still depend on the government postal services of the two countries?

A. Now that there will be commercial trade with Vietnam, yes, private postal services, such as Federal Express, could be used.

However, some private companies have long been able to deliver packages from the United States by routing them through countries that had trade relations with Vietnam, such as Great Britain and Singapore.

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