Vietnam, EU’s second most important trade partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, might soon join the ever longer list of countries that enjoy free trade with the bloc. As the Commission reports, after nine years of bilateral negotiations, the deal is to gradually eliminate more than 99% of customs duties on goods for up to 10 years. But the parties also reached consensus on issues concerning investment, sustainable development and human rights, meaning that the final product of the talks is more than just one document. The agreements now need the approval of the member states and the European Parliament to enter into force.
“They promote a rules- and values-based trade policy with strong and clear commitments on sustainable development and human rights”, Jean-Claude Juncker emphasizes, alluding to the fact that in case any of the sides breaches, for instance, International Labour Organisation standards or the Paris Agreement, it may face legal consequences.
A message to Asia
Back in 2007, the EU launched negotiations to prepare a trade and investment pact with ASEAN as a bloc, but in 2009, after it failed, the organisations mutually agreed the EU should continue the talks with each of the ASEAN’s member separately instead. It was envisaged such smaller arrangements could, in future, faciliate drafting of a comprehensive EU-ASEAN deal.
The Commission hopes that finishing the negotiations on the agreements right before the Europe-Asia meeting, a format that includes EU and ASEAN countries, will send a message to its eastern partners – “By adopting them a few hours before welcoming the participants in the ASEM-EU Summit in Brussels, the Commission shows its commitment to open trade and engagement with Asia” – Juncker admits.
So far, the EU has only managed to close negotiations with Singapore, which is its biggest trade partner in ASEAN, but the deal has yet to be accepted by the Council as well as the Parliament.