Vietnam has made great strides in all aspects of its economy in the five years since it became a member of the World Trade Organisation, experts told a conference in HCM City last week.

More than 200 economists, policy makers, and business executives attended the conference titled "Five years after joining WTO – integration and development of Vietnamese enterprises" organised by the Communist Party of Vietnam online newspaper and Industry and Trade newspaper.

After the country acceded to the WTO in 2007, foreign direct investments have risen dramatically as have exports.

The country's exports have virtually doubled in the period to 96.3 billion USD.

Distribution and retail services have also developed strongly, with the opening of hundreds of convenience stores changing the complexion of the country's retail sector and buying habits of Vietnamese consumers.

Former deputy prime minister Vu Khoan said the WTO membership enabled local companies to enjoy lower import tariffs on machinery, equipment and feedstock, which helps cut production costs and improve their competitiveness.

Opening up of distribution has been an important step in the country's integration into the global economy.

The attendees agreed that the penetration of foreign goods has brought great competitive pressure on local products, but on the other hand consumers can choose from a variety of high-quality products and services at competitive prices.

This has prompted local firms to improve their competitiveness, they said.

But many also pointed out the weaknesses of Vietnam in its process of integration – like the poor quality of growth, human resources, high trade deficit, and low competitiveness.

The export structure had not changed considerably, with the country still mainly shipping abroad raw materials and labor-intensive products such as garments and footwear, they said.

The Government and businesses therefore need to take better advantage of opportunities, they said.

The high bank interest rates at the moment is causing difficulties for exporters and services companies and eating into their profits, said Do Ha Nam , chairman of the Vietnam Coffee and Cocoa Association and general director of Intimex Import-Export JS Company, said.

The Government should reduce the rates, he added.-VNA