President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso talks to Vietnam News Agency about bilateral co-operation on the occasion of his two-day visit to Viet Nam at the invitation of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, which starts today.
|Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung (R) and President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso. — VNA/VNS Photo Duc Tam
What is the purpose of your visit to Viet Nam?
|President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso
This is my second visit to Viet Nam as President of the European Commission (EC). Since I first came to Viet Nam in November 2007, our bilateral relations have developed vigorously and comprehensively. The signature of the new generation EU-Viet Nam Partnership and Co-operation Agreement (PCA) in 2012, the negotiations for which I launched and concluded together with Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, is a milestone in EU-Viet Nam relations.
My visit to Viet Nam takes place in a context where the relationship between the EU and Viet Nam has never been so rich, creating new co-operation opportunities in all possible fields.
The purpose is therefore to consolidate the results achieved and to launch and reinforce new areas of political and sectoral co-operation, as well as to make progress in our next big project which is the finalisation of a Free Trade Agreement.
Our trade and economic relations are already very good, but we can do much more by completing the negotiations for the Free Trade Agreement which we launched back in 2012. Together with the PCA, the FTA would be the second pillar of our relationship.
Such agreement, once concluded, will increase opportunities for Vietnamese businesses, granting preferential market access for Vietnamese exports to the EU. Negotiations are making good progress and we expect to conclude the negotiations in the near future.
Finally, I have also come to Viet Nam to reiterate our commitment with the country's political and economic reforms and its development.
How do you assess bilateral relations between the EU and Viet Nam from the perspective of negotiations for the FTA, and also in the future?
Our overall relations are excellent. In economics and trade, the EU is Viet Nam's largest export market and second largest two-way trade partner. Our two-way trade is growing by almost 20 per cent year on year. In 2013, EU-Viet Nam two way trade reached 27 billion euros, or US$37 billion.
The Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Viet Nam, which is under negotiation, will boost and sustain our strong economic relationship while giving Viet Nam a major perspective in the global economy.
The EU and its Member States are also Viet Nam's largest donors. To give you a figure, from 2014 to 2020, the EC has pledged to commit 400 million euros for further development of the country, 100 million euros more than in the past, and this is despite the fact Viet Nam has been recently classified as a middle income country. This testifies the EU's strong commitment to the development of Viet Nam.
On a more political level, the role of Viet Nam as a co-ordinator in the relationship between the EU and ASEAN is very much appreciated. Asia is a region where we have many bonds and interests, not only economic, but also cultural, historical, and of course, strategic interests.
How do you see Viet Nam? What do you think are its weaknesses?
Since Viet Nam opened up to the world with the doi moi (renewal) and since its successful accession to the World Trade Organisation (WTO), it has experienced spectacular economic development, and also made remarkable progress regarding living standards. The recent stabilisation of fundamental issues such as inflation and the exchange rate are important achievements. Nevertheless, some weaknesses remain.
The paradox is that this success opens up new challenges to middle-income countries that must develop the added value of their economies. Viet Nam must make a firm commitment in this direction - and this is the understanding of your country's authorities through their industrialisation plan. This requires not only quantitative but also qualitative progress, including the liberalisation and modernisation of the economy towards a true market economy that has to be fully integrated in the global world. This is where the Free Trade Agreement plays an important role.
The history of Europe shows that liberalisation to be successful must be integrated; it cannot be limited to the economy, it has to be extended to other areas of social, cultural or political organisations. Reforms in these areas are key elements to trigger the potential of civil society and the overall progress of the country.
Could you please share with us the EU's position over the South China Sea/East Sea tensions?
The EU attaches great importance to peace and stability in the region and we are concerned about the tensions over the South China Sea/East Sea. We encourage all parties to seek peaceful solutions through dialogue and co-operation in accordance with international law - in particular with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea - and to continue ensuring safety and freedom of navigation. In Europe, we know the importance of regional co-operation, which is essential to address these challenges.
What is your message that you wish to convey to Vietnamese people in your upcoming visit?
Seven years have passed since my first visit to your extraordinary country. I came here a second time precisely because I believe in the potential of this country and of our bilateral relations. I believe we have much to gain from working more closely with each other. In the past years, I have been very pleased to see how Viet Nam has developed its economy, become a member of the WTO and hopefully soon signing an ambitious Free Trade Agreement with the European Union.
Europeans and Vietnamese shall look ahead with optimism.
The EU and Viet Nam will celebrate the 25th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations in 2015. I am confident the future of our relationship will see a continuation of these very positive trends and will enable us to make progress on a much broader front. With the steps we have already taken, the basis is there for us to continue to be trusted and solid partners for many years to come. — VNS