Hanoi, January 16:

US and Vietnamese officials met here today for a critical round of negotiations on the communist nation’s accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), officials said.

The talks should last until Wednesday, with the two countries trying to reach a breakthrough on several major issues including agriculture tariffs, telecommunications, export subsidies and market access for service companies.

“The meeting started today morning,” an official at the trade ministry in Hanoi said without elaborating. The two sides last took up the issues in September. “Vietnam has achieved nine round of negotiations with the US and the two countries have considerably reduced the gap” between their respective positions, foreign ministry spokesman Le Dung said last week.

The remaining differences “are not numerous but very complicated,” he said.

On Friday, assistant secretary of state Christopher Hill said he was convinced both sides were eager to find a common position rapidly in order to pave the way for Vietnam’s accession by the end of the year. Vietnam wanted to join the WTO during its last ministerial meeting in Hong Kong in December but it has yet to sign signed necessary bilateral agreements with the United States, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Honduras and the Republic of Dominica.

No new target date has been decided. One of the requirements for WTO entry is the granting of permanent normal trading relations (PNTR) to Vietnam by the US Congress.