VIETNAM BOOSTERS SAY that with the lifting of the 18-year trade embargo against the former enemy, a new Asian Tiger is in the making. Many of its 70 million consumers are devotees of American brand names. Despite Marxist rule, the Vietnamese retain a knack for capitalism, especially in the south. Coca-Cola, Caterpillar, Mobil, Citibank, and loads of other U.S. companies are on the brink of starting lucrative operations in Vietnam.
IN REALITY, Vietnam's economic advance will flag because Bill Clinton won't grant it most-favored-nation status, saying more progress is needed on missing U.S. troops. Stiff tariffs will price Vietnamese goods such as garments and shoes out of the U.S., the world's top market. So investors from Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Korea are reluctant to invest in the factories Vietnam needs to take off. Now, its meager $3 billion in exports is mostly primary goods like oil, rice, and seafood. With its export power stunted, how can Vietnam afford many Boeing jets or IBM computers?EDITED BY LARRY LIGHT AND JULIE TILSNER Pete Engardio