Vietnam's emigration policy is "the first major issue" the Clinton administration will address in deciding whether to extend U.S. trade-related financing programs to Vietnam, a senior U.S. official said Thursday.

At issue are U.S. Export-Import Bank and Commodity Credit Corp. financing of U.S. exports to Vietnam and the financing and insuring of U.S. investors in

Vietnam by the Overseas Private Investment Corp.U.S. companies interested in doing business with Vietnam are pressing the administration to make Vietnam eligible for these programs.

Under U.S. law, the eligibility of a "non-market" economy such as Vietnam for Ex-Im Bank, CCC and OPIC assistance is linked to the country's emigration practices. A country that restricts emigration may not qualify for the assistance.

Under Secretary of State Joan Spero told a U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council meeting here that the administration will start to assess Vietnam's emigration policies in the context of U.S. law.

Even if emigration curbs are found, she said, Vietnam might be declared eligible for Ex-Im Bank, CCC and OPIC programs - the president has the option to waive the law's free emigration requirement.

A recent State Department report on human rights practices indicates that

Vietnam's emigration practices are relatively free.

Le Van Triet, Vietnam's trade minister, told the U.S.-Vietnam Trade Council meeting that U.S. trade finance programs are essential to realizing the potential in U.S.-Vietnam trade. He also called for a U.S.-Vietnamese trade pact that would sharply reduce U.S. tariffs on Vietnamese products.

Even though U.S.-Vietnamese trade relations have not been "normalized," Ms. Spero said, well over 100 U.S. companies have opened offices in Vietnam and U.S. investment in Vietnam exceeds $600 million. U.S. exports to Vietnam this year, she said, are likely to reach $230 million. Imports from Vietnam - mostly coffee - are expected to total $50 million.