IN OTHER WORDS: Future focus

It may turn out to be little more than a legislative detour, but there was something sadly anachronistic about the House’s failure on Monday to pass a Bill on normalised trade relations with Vietnam by the two-thirds majority required under a special rush procedure usually employed for non-controversial legislation.

A Cold War relic, the Jackson-Vanik amendment requires that a Bill permanently normalising trade relations with Vietnam must be passed before US exporters can benefit from the slashed tariffs Vietnam is obliged to offer now that it is about to join the World Trade Organisation. There is still time to pass the Bill with a simple majority vote, under normal House procedures.

The Cold War is over, and so is the Vietnam War. Vietnam boasts Southeast Asia’s fastest-growing economy and the fastest-growing market for American products in Asia. Foreign investment in Vietnam surged by 41 per cent last year, in relative terms a steeper rate of increase than China’s.

During the past five years, annual per capita income in Vietnam had doubled, and growth of gross domestic product has averaged more than 7 per cent. Two-thirds of Vietnam’s 84 million people are under the age of 30. They are focusing on the future, not on the past. American lawmakers ought to do the same.