VIETNAM, WTO MAKE IT OFFICIAL: Vietnam, which has emerged as a manufacturing hot spot for apparel and footwear, joined the World Trade Organization on Thursday as the 150th member. U.S. Trade Rep. Susan Schwab said in a statement "This is an historic day....It marks the beginning of a new era in the political and economic relationship of our two countries." The Geneva-based WTO oversees most global trade in goods and services worth more than $12 trillion annually. Vietnam's apparel exports in 2005 increased 8 percent to $4.8 billion and textile imports rose 13 percent to $3.3 billion.

WAL-MART HEALTH CARE: Continuing to work on its reputation, Wal-Mart said Thursday that the percentage of associates covered by company health insurance rose 8 percent in fall 2006 to 47.4 percent of employees. A total of 636,391 U.S. associates, out of one million eligible workers, opted for the company's health care package in the most recent enrollment period. The $312 billion retailer has been accused of pushing its 1.3 million U.S. workers into state-funded medical care programs through expensive insurance and onerous eligibility requirements. In the last year, Wal-Mart reduced the waiting period for associates to gain eligibility, created low-premium/high deductible health care plans, opened in-store clinics and rolled out a $4 generic drug prescription program.

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