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U.S. marketers are pushing for a formalized bilateral trade agreement in the wake of President Clinton's decision last week to establish diplomatic relations with Vietnam.

"This was a big step, but it's just the first step," said Bob Haines, government relations representative with Mobil Corp. "The immediate impact is the lifting of double taxation in which marketers did not receive credit toward their U.S. taxes" on income taxed in other countries. "A bilateral agreement is further down the road."

Mobil is one of more than 70 U.S. marketers that are members of the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council, which is already planning recommendations to the government agencies that will establish a trade agreement between the two countries. The council-comprised of Fortune 500 companies, analysts, consultants and small businesses-was created last year after the president lifted the trade embargo against Vietnam.

"We want the whole shooting match including MFN [most-favored nation status], but I have a feeling that'll take some consultation with Congress," said Frances Zwenig, VP and counsel for the Trade Council. "To be profitable for our companies to take advantage of the opportunities in Vietnam and for Vietnamese companies to export, particularly their textiles and shoes to us, we need to have MFN." MFN trade status would reduce tariffs between the two countries.

Last week's announcement also should clear the way for U.S. agencies, such as the Export-Import Bank and the Overseas Private Investment Corp., to help U.S. marketers doing business in Vietnam.

The opportunities for U.S. companies are plentiful. Despite its virtually unrestrained trading policy with Vietnam, France has yet to take advantage of that buoyant trade. And the profitable computer and stereo/video sector is still dominated by companies based in the Far East.

Bruce Crumley and Andrea Sachs contributed to this story.

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