BRUSSELS — Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton signed the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement between Viet Nam and the EU at the EU headquarters in Brussels yesterday.
The signing of the PCA, after nine rounds of negotiations, which began in 2007, was described as an important development, taking the bilateral relationship to a new stage with wider and deeper co-operation on the basis of equality, mutual benefit and in line with the two sides' priorities on socio-economic development and external affairs.
The PCA is expected to open up opportunities for co-operation between Viet Nam and the EU in areas such as science and technology, education and training, agro-forestry and fisheries, natural disaster prevention and mitigation.
It also shows both sides' determination to further enhance cooperation in addressing global issues such as non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, fighting terrorism and organised crimes and climate change adaptation, according to the foreign ministry.
The same day, minister Minh and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton held talks as part of the former's official visit to the EU.
The host affirmed that the EU attaches importance to Viet Nam's increasing role in the region and the world and wishes to enhance bilateral cooperation and cooperation at regional and international forums.
Both sides said the official signing of the PCA and the launching of negotiations on a free trade agreement between Viet Nam and the EU on Tuesday were two important events, creating a driving force to deepen bilateral cooperation in all areas in the years to come.
In this spirit, they agreed to take measures to boost bilateral co-operation such as exchanges of contacts and delegations, promoting trade and investment, exchange of experience and strategic dialogues on economic issues.
On co-operation between the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and the European External Action Service (EEAS), they spoke highly of the first political consultancy meetings at the deputy foreign minister level between the two sides last February in Ha Noi.
They affirmed the importance of the dialogue mechanism in the fields of democracy and human rights, saying that this is an effective mechanism to share information, increase mutual understanding and promote the Viet Nam-EU ties as well as cooperation between the Vietnamese Foreign Ministry and the EEAS.
Regarding the East Sea issue, the EU official affirmed the EU's stance on solving disputes in the East Sea through peaceful measures based on the respect for international laws, including the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, to ensure free and safe maritime navigation and security in the region.
The EU supports concerned parties to fully implement the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the East Sea (DOC) and work toward building the Code of Conduct in the East Sea.
Earlier, Minister Minh met with President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy, who promised to pay an official visit to Viet Nam on the occasion of attending the 9th ASEM Summit in Laos in November.
Free trade talks begin
Viet Nam's Minister of Industry and Trade, Vu Huy Hoang, and the EU's Trade Commissioner, Karel De Gutch, began negotiations for a free-trade agreement (FTA) also in Brussels on Tuesday.
De Gutch said this was an important milestone in relations between the EU and Viet Nam.
"Viet Nam is our third partner in the ASEAN region after Singapore and Malaysia," he said.
At present, 42 per cent of Viet Nam's exports to the EU enjoy a zero per cent tax rate, while the rate for Malaysia and the Philippines is 80-85 per cent.
When the FTA becomes official, the rate for Viet Nam exports enjoying a zero per cent tax rate in the EU would be 90 per cent.
Viet Nam and the EU started negotiating a FTA during Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung's visit to the EC for the eighth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October, 2010. Consensus was reached at a meeting in Cambodia on March 31, 2012.
The EU-Viet Nam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) is a comprehensive agreement based on the principles of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). It covers goods, services, investment and other areas of mutual concern.
The EU mainly imports footwear, textiles, coffee, timber and seafood from Viet Nam while it exports machinery and other equipment, pharmaceutical products, raw materials for garments, textiles and footwear, steel and fertiliser.
Together with the FTA negotiations, the EU plans to accelerate its recognition of Viet Nam as a market economy. This will enable Viet Nam to better fight trade protection barriers like anti-dumping taxes.
De Gutch said the EU was pursuing free-trade agreements with all ASEAN nations.
Two-way trade between Viet Nam and the EU has developed remarkably. The EU is Viet Nam's fourth largest investor with an investment of US$1.77 billion or more than 12 per cent of the country's total foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2011.
The bilateral trade figure increased from $1.5 billion in 1995 to $24 billion in 2011, with yearly growth of 15-20 per cent.
The potential for Viet Nam to expand its exports to the EU is high because the trade turnover between the two is only 0.6 per cent of the EU's total trade turnover, according to the foreign ministry.
By the end of last year, the EU had invested in nearly 1,700 projects in Viet Nam, with total registered capital of $32 billion. — VNS