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Vietnam says US probe over its currency, timber may harm both countries

A United States probe into Vietnam's currency and timber could harm bilateral relations and negatively impact workers and consumers in both countries, Vietnam said on Friday, January 8, citing remarks by its trade minister to the US Trade Representative (USTR).

The Trump administration in late December named Vietnam a currency manipulator, a move that businesses said could see the USTR impose tariffs on Vietnamese goods. It has also accused Vietnam of avoiding tariffs by mislabeling products made from Chinese timber.

"This investigation could cause many undesirable effects, damage bilateral relations, and have negative impacts on thousands of businesses, and millions of workers and consumers in Vietnam and the United States," Vietnam's trade ministry said in a statement, paraphrasing remarks by minister Tran Tuan Anh in a phone conversation with Robert Lighthizer on Thursday, January 7.

The website and official Twitter account of the office of the USTR had no immediate statement on the conversation. The US embassy in Hanoi said it had no immediate comment.

Vietnam foreign minister Pham Binh Minh and US counterpart Mike Pompeo discussed the same issue on Wednesday, January 6.

Vietnam has consistently said its currency policies were to maintain exchange rate stability and keep inflation under control and did not seek an unfair trade advantage.

The United States is Vietnam's largest export market, accounting for over a quarter of its total export revenue in 2020. Its key exports to the country include garments, electronics, and wood products.

In Thursday's phone talk, Anh suggested the US investigation cover all aspects and potential impacts, and be conducted in a fair, thorough, and transparent manner, the Vietnamese statement said.

"We hope that the two sides could close this case smoothly without taxes being imposed on Vietnamese goods," it said.

The Vietnamese statement quoted Lighthizer referring to "rumors" of taxes being imposed, and saying those were not true as the USTR had yet to make any conclusions. Reuters could not immediately confirm the comment. – Rappler.com