EU and Viet­nam an­nounce free trade deal


The EU and Viet­nam on Tues­day an­nounced a free trade deal re­mov­ing nearly all tar­iffs, with Brus­sels call­ing it a “mile­stone” on the way to a re­gion-wide agree­ment with South­east Asia.

The EU said the agree­ment in prin­ci­ple fol­lowed two and a half years of “in­tense” ne­go­ti­a­tions be­tween the 28-na­tion Euro­pean Union and Viet­nam, whose twoway trade has grown to 28 bil­lion eu­ros (more than US$30 bil­lion) in the last 10 years.

“We have a deal. This finely bal­anced agree­ment will boost trade with one of Asia’s most dy­namic economies,” EU Trade com­mis­sioner Ce­cilia Malm­stroem an­nounced in Brus­sels fol­low­ing a phone call with her Viet­namese coun­ter­part Vu Huy Hoang.

In Hanoi, Hoang said the deal would help “in­te­grate Viet­nam into the global econ­omy,” al­low Viet­namese firms to meet in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and pro­vide ben­e­fits for busi­nesses and peo­ple on both sides.

Malm­stroem told a press con- fer­ence in Brus­sels that the two had agreed on “all the po­lit­i­cal is­sues,” but more le­gal work was needed to fi­nalise the text and she hoped the deal could take ef­fect in late 2017 or early 2018.

She called the agree­ment, which fol­lows a sim­i­lar one with Sin­ga­pore last year, an “im­por­tant mile­stone” in EU ties with the 10-mem­ber As­so­ci­a­tion of South­east Asian Na­tions (ASEAN), which in­cludes Viet­nam and Sin­ga­pore.

“Our ul­ti­mate goal is to have a re­gion-to-re­gion agree­ment,” the for­mer Swedish politi­cian said.

EU for­eign min­is­ter Fed­er­ica Mogherini an­nounced mean­while that she will visit Kuala Lumpur on Aug. 5-6 as part of the EU’s drive to “step up its en­gage­ment” with ASEAN, which will also in­clude talks on se­cu­rity.

Hu­man Rights Fo­cus

Malm­stroem said “there is a large fo­cus on hu­man rights” in the deal and in the broader re­la­tion­ship, warn­ing that the agree­ment could be sus­pended if Viet­nam fails to re­spect its obli­ga­tions.

Malm­stroem said the agree­ment, the first that the EU has con­cluded with a de­vel­op­ing coun­try, will re­move more than 99 per­cent of tar­iffs on goods traded be­tween the two economies over a pe­riod of up to seven years.

“The agree­ment will also cre­ate new mar­ket ac­cess op­por­tu­ni­ties in ser­vices and in­vest­ment,” a state­ment said.

“Viet­nam has agreed to lib­er­al­ize trade in fi­nan­cial ser­vices, telecom­mu­ni­ca­tions, trans­port and postal and courier ser­vices,” it added.

Viet­nam, it said, will also open its mar­ket to EU in­vest­ment by, for ex­am­ple, lift­ing or eas­ing re­stric­tions on the man­u­fac­ture of food prod­ucts and bev­er­ages, as well as in non-food sec­tors.

The deal is de­signed to boost the pro­tec­tion in Viet­nam of ge­o­graph­i­cal in­di­ca­tions rep­re­sent­ing “flag­ship” EU prod­ucts like Cham­pagne, Parmi­giano Reg­giano cheese, Rioja wine, Ro­que­fort cheese and Scotch Whisky.

The EU will re­cip­ro­cate by rec­og­niz­ing Viet­namese prod­ucts like Moc Chau tea and Buon Ma Thuot cof­fee, the EU said.

The deal will en­sure the re­spect of work­ers’ rights as well as the “sus­tain­able man­age­ment” of nat­u­ral re­sources, in­clud­ing wildlife, forests and fish­eries.

Malm­stroem said more than 31 mil­lion jobs in Europe — which is suf­fer­ing from high un­em­ploy­ment — de­pend on ex­ports and that hav­ing eas­ier ac­cess to a grow­ing mar­ket of 90 mil­lion con­sumers was “great news.”

In Hanoi, Hoang said Viet­nam has “to in­crease our com­pet­i­tive­ness and man­age­ment of com­pa­nies.”

The EU is al­ready Viet­nam’s largest ex­port mar­ket and its sec­ond largest trad­ing part­ner af­ter China.

Viet­nam ex­ports mo­bile phones and other elec­tron­ics, footwear and tex­tiles, and agri­cul­tural prod­ucts in­clud­ing cof­fee, rice and seafood to the EU.

EU ex­ports to Viet­nam, mean­while, are dom­i­nated by high-tech prod­ucts in­clud­ing elec­tri­cal ma­chin­ery and equip­ment, air­craft, ve­hi­cles and phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals.

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