Both sides hail long-awaited signing after three years of negotiations.
The EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) was officially signed today, December 2, in Brussels by Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem.
Vietnam hopes that, once ratified, the FTA will help two-way trade between Vietnam and the EU to increase significantly, Minister Hoang said after the signing ceremony.
Ambassador - Head of the EU Delegation to Vietnam, H.E. Bruno Angelet, said he hopes the agreement will benefit exporters in both the EU and Vietnam. “It will take two more years for EU members to ratify the agreement and, during this period, Vietnam’s management bodies and enterprises will prepare for the agreement to take effect,” he said.
The FTA is of significant value to both the EU and Vietnam.
According to Minster Hoang, the EU is currently Vietnam’s second-largest trading partner and second-largest export market. The EU’s exports to Vietnam are dominated by high-tech products, including electrical machinery and equipment, aircraft, vehicles, and pharmaceutical products. Vietnam’s key export items to the EU, meanwhile, include telephones, electronic products, footwear, textiles and clothing, coffee, rice, seafood, and furniture.
The agreement will allow EU exporters and investors to access a fast-growing market of 90 million people and consolidate their presence in one of the most dynamic regions in the world.
EU-Vietnam trade increased eight-fold from 2001 to 2014, from $4.5 billion to more than $36.8 billion. In the first nine months of this year trade stood at $30.8 billion, an increase of 15.5 per cent year-on-year.
The in-principle agreement reached on August 4 includes the elimination of over 99 per cent of all tariffs. Vietnam will liberalize tariffs over a ten-year period and the EU will do likewise over a seven-year period.
The agreement also covers non-tariff barriers to trade and other trade related matters such as public procurement, regulatory issues, competition, services, investment, intellectual property rights, and sustainable development.
The EU is also one of the largest foreign investors in Vietnam. This year EU investors have committed a total of $1.3 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI), becoming Vietnam’s third-largest foreign investment partner. As at September, 23 countries in the EU had signed investment projects in Vietnam this year, for a total of 2,030 projects with investment of $31 billion.
Meanwhile, Vietnam has invested in 57 projects in 13 EU countries, with total registered capital of $152 million. “In the EVFTA Vietnam and the EU have committed to transparent, open investment and business environments to push high quality investment from the EU to Vietnam,” Minister Hoang said.
Negotiations over the FTA were launched in June 2012. The EU considers its FTAs with individual ASEAN countries as stepping stones towards an agreement within the regional framework, which remains the ultimate goal. This is the second FTA between the EU and an ASEAN country, after the conclusion of the Singapore FTA in 2014.
The EVFTA is a new deal with more commitments to cut tariffs, create commercial advantages, and improve the investment and business environments, competition, and sustainable development. It will also create challenges, however, because the EU is one of the most competitive markets in the world, according to Mr. Vu Tien Loc, President of the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Tariffs on most Vietnamese export items will be slashed, but some commodities like food, garments, textiles, and footwear - Vietnam’s hard currency earners - will still trigger stiff tariffs. Tariff reductions will make Vietnamese products more competitive but will not guarantee that Vietnamese enterprises exporting to the EU will overcome other non-tariff barriers.
Regarding the policy reform set out in the EVFTA, Mr. Tran Quoc Khanh, Deputy Minister of Industry and Trade, said that there are commitments relating to investment, trade liberalization, government procurement, and intellectual property protection. These commitments aim to open up opportunities for both sides to approach each other’s markets. “With these commitments, Vietnam must adjust some provisions of its existing laws, but we have found that adjustments are in the policy for reforming administrative procedures. Vietnam would, of course, have made these adjustments regardless of the EVFTA,” Deputy Minister Khanh said.
The EVFTA is one of the most important agreements Vietnam has signed. It is proof that the country is ready for the new global circumstances and it will create a new framework for the development of a particularly high level of integration. The signing of the agreement, however, is one thing. More important is how to prepare and turn opportunities into profits.