Hanoi fair banks on US `coming back'

LONG before President Clinton lifted the embargo on trade with Vietnam, there was a black market for American goods. Some Vietnamese washed their clothes with Tide, dealt with their dandruff with Head and Shoulders, brushed their teeth with Colgate, stop for a Coke break, and let M&Ms melt in their mouths.

So it is not surprising that the first United States trade fair in Vietnam is attracting some interest. Forty companies have signed up, including Coca Cola, General Motors Company, IBM, General Electric, and United Technologies, according to Hung Le, one of the show's organizers. PepsiCo will be the main sponsor of the show, scheduled to take place April 21-24 in Hanoi.

The trade show organizers, who had scheduled the event even before President Clinton lifted the embargo on Vietnam, say they are more hopeful now that small and medium-sized companies will sign on.

``Until the embargo was lifted, it made no sense for a company to bring their goods [to a trade show] and then have to bring them back again,'' says Peter Tran, another organizer of the upcoming trade show.

Messrs Le and Tran, who run a company called Vietnam Investment Information and Consulting, based in San Diego, say they are confident that US goods will sell well since Vietnamese with relatives in the US prefer gifts of American goods to US dollars. ``They can sell the goods and make more money on the black market,'' Tran explains. Another reason for the enthusiasm over US goods is their longevity. In a trip to Vietnam two years ago, Le and Tran say they were surprised to find 40-year-old American-made machinery still running.

The organizers, who both left Vietnam in 1975, say they don't believe that memories of the Vietnam war will sour potential sales. Last year they took a group of Americans to Hanoi where the Yanks were greeted with smiles.

``People on the streets welcomed them and said `please come back,' '' Tran says.

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