U.S. President Joe Biden's bid to draw Vietnam closer as a strategic ally clashed with his desire for union workers' votes on Wednesday as trade lawyers sparred over whether the Commerce Department should upgrade the communist-ruled country to market economy status.

The move, opposed by U.S. steelmakers, Gulf Coast shrimpers and American honey farmers, but backed by retailers and some other business groups, would reduce the punitive anti-dumping duties set on Vietnamese imports because of its current status as a non-market economy marked by heavy state influence.

Vietnam's deepening economic ties to China loomed large in arguments on both sides of the issue at a virtual public hearing hosted by the Commerce Department as part of a review. A decision is due on July 26.