President Clinton signed a waiver Wednesday exempting Vietnam from legislation that restricts trade with communist countries.

Acting on recommendations from Pete Peterson, U.S. ambassador to Vietnam; Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., and others, Clinton asked Congress to exempt Vietnam from the Jackson-Vanik amendment, which prevents normalized economic relations with a communist country unless it permits free emigration.The signing is another step toward normalizing ties between Vietnam and the United States.

Clinton's action will enable American companies in Vietnam to qualify for a series of U.S. programs. For example, they will be entitled to obtain government-backed financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank for their Vietnam projects and may also insure their operations through the Overseas Private Investment Corp.

The Hanoi government and U.S. companies doing business in Vietnam have been lobbying for the waiver since the United States established diplomatic ties with its former enemy in 1995.