Visa International said the Bank for Foreign Trade of Vietnam has become the card association's first principal member from that country.

Principal membership gives the Hanoi-based bank, known as Vietcombank, the ability both to issue cards and to sign up merchants for acceptance.

Visa had concentrated to this point on assuring that travelers from other countries could use their cards at Vietnamese merchant locations.

It said 1,300 merchants in Vietnam handled $77 million of Visa transactions last year, or 53% of all card spending by foreigners.

Vietcombank is the country's largest Visa merchant bank, with 1,000 customers. Visa's Asia-Pacific regional office said Vietnamese card volumes are growing faster than 50% a year.

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