Passage of the legislation was required for US businesses to receive the benefits of Vietnam's accession to the World Trade Organisation on 28 December. "This is the final step in a long process that will result in significantly more opportunities for citizens and businesses in both countries," said chairman and chief executive Warren Staley. "Without it, US farmers, exporters, and investors would have been at a disadvantage vis-à-vis other WTO member countries. The PNTR vote passage enables both countries to enjoy the market access benefits negotiated in Vietnam's WTO accession agreement." The historic move ends a Cold War-era requirement that Washington evaluate Hanoi's human rights record as a pre-condition for renewing normal trade relations with Vietnam each year. "Vietnam is currently a solid market and its promise as a trading partner is great," added Staley. "Given Vietnam's annual economic growth rate of over 8 per cent and an annual per capita income of US$620 and rising, the future of US and Vietnam economic cooperation will only become more significant for both sides," he said. Vietnam has a population of over 84 million people with an average age of 26. Opportunities in the food market are increasing as retailing expands and incomes rise. Cargill previously told AP-Foodtechnology.com that it estimates the opportunities in the market to be as significant as those created by China's WTO membership. Since the US and Vietnam signed a bilateral trade deal in late 2001, two-way trade between the two countries has already risen to $US7.8 billion a year, up from $US1.2 billion in 2000.