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ICC Note: Whether or not the U.S. Congress will use the opportunity of ratifying this trade treaty to put pressure on the communist government of Vietnam to improve its human rights record, and specifically provide greater religious freedom, remains to be seen.  ICC will be closely watching the debate which no doubt will follow.

By New America Media staff

10/07/2015 Vietnam (New America Media)

It’s the largest regional trade pact ever agreed – and according to some economists, Vietnam could emerge as the biggest winner.

After five years of secret negotiations, and some tense 11th hour brinkmanship at the final session in Atlanta, twelve countries finally signed up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The reduction in tariffs would give Vietnamese exporters much freer access to the giant markets of the United States and Japan, and spur a substantial increase in economic growth.

Pro-democracy activists also hope the pact will tie Vietnam much closer to the United States, and make it more responsive to criticism over human rights abuses and restrictions on the rights of workers.

Vietnam’s inclusion can also be seen as a major rebuff to China, given the pact’s expected role as a bulwark against Chinese economic and political influence in the region.

Vietnam’s critics in Congress can also be expected to argue against the inclusion of such a low wage, authoritarian country without further concessions on labour rights, religious freedom and government transparency.

That’s likely to put further pressure on Hanoi, which has already shown signs of mitigating its repression of government critics as the negotiations reached their climax.

Some leading dissidents have been released from prison since last year, although harassment and sometimes violent attacks have continued against bloggers and other activists.

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