New Prospects for Vietnam-EU Cooperation

9:46:50 AM | 9/8/2020

The year 2020 witnesses the 30th anniversary of Vietnam-EU diplomatic relations (1990-2020), an important milestone in bilateral relations and marking robust comprehensive partnership and cooperation between Vietnam and the European Union (EU). On this occasion, Vietnam Business Forum has an interview with Mr. Dinh Toan Thang, Director of the Europe Bureau, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Vietnam, on this issue. Nguyen Mai reports.

2020 marks the 30th year since Vietnam and the EU established diplomatic relations. Could you please tell us some memorable milestones in the relationship?

The development of Vietnam - EU relations over the past 30 years has been always coupled with Vietnam’s open foreign policy, Doi Moi (renovation), toward diversifying and multilateralizing international relations and deepening relations with major partners and important partners within an extensive international integration process. That 30-year trajectory also reflects the dynamic progress of the EU's policies and strategies toward the Asia-Pacific and Southeast Asia region, where it attaches increasing importance to the role and position of Vietnam and considers the country a leading EU partner in the region.

We still remember that five years after the establishment of diplomatic relations, the Framework Agreement on Vietnam-EC Cooperation was signed in 1995, concurrent with other major milestones of Vietnamese foreign relations, for example the normalization of the Vietnam-U.S. relationship and Vietnam's accession to ASEAN, which created an important legal framework for diverse cooperation programs between the two sides. The widening door and very positive cooperation results, coupled with the common desire to bring to the bilateral relationship broader and more comprehensive development, laid the groundwork for Vietnam and the EU to agree on and sign the Comprehensive Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) in 2012, replacing the 1995 Framework Agreement on Cooperation and establishing a new vision for bilateral ties.

Based on that new framework, Vietnam - EU cooperation has really spread to many fields and increasingly deepened. Typical examples are outstanding agreements reached by the two sides like Voluntary Partnership Agreement/Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade (VPA/FLEGT Agreement) signed in 2018, the Framework Participation Agreement (FPA) in the EU Crisis Management signed in 2019, and especially the Vietnam - EU Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) signed in June 2019, effective in early August 2020, and the Vietnam - EU Investment Protection Agreement (EVIPA), which is in the process of ratification.

It should be emphasized that those developments in Vietnam-EU relations are backed by the strong political will of the two sides' high-ranking leaders, as well as the dynamic actions of central and local authorities, partners and businesses of Vietnam and the EU. High-level visits have really become important milestones in Vietnam - EU relations, established important driving forces for new cooperation development, including major visits in recent years, like the EU visits by General Secretary and President of Vietnam Nguyen Phu Trong in 2013, by Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc in 2018 and National Assembly Chairwoman Nguyen Thi Kim Ngan in 2019, as well as many visits to Vietnam by EC and EP leaders.

We are witnessing the comprehensive development of Vietnam - EU relations. As a result, the EU has become one of Vietnam's top trading partners. The two-way trade value exceeded US$50 billion since 2017. Good cooperation is opening up in many development areas for Vietnam in the current period, such as energy, education and climate change response. Vietnam, in its active multilateral foreign policy, is working closely with the EU in multilateral forums and mechanisms to promote cooperation and contribute to maintaining rules-based international order, for peace, stability and development in the region and the world.

What are advantages and disadvantages of EVFTA and EVIPA negotiation and promotion?

EVFTA and EVIPA were negotiated in the context that both Vietnam and the EU wanted to realize the will and the new strategic vision that leaders of the two sides and the PCA Agreement saw it as a very important area for both Vietnam and the EU. EVFTA and EVIPA have since become new featured content in all high-level exchanges between the two sides. The agreement on vision and benefits created a strong determination and motivation for Vietnam and the EU to promote EVFTA and EVIPA, which is not only seen as an important move to build an equal, comprehensive and long-term partnership between Vietnam and the EU, but also allows exploiting the market potential, promoting complementarity between the two economies, creating opportunities for investment and business cooperation for the business community, bringing benefits to the people, promoting regional cooperation and integration, and enhancing the position of both Vietnam and the EU in the changing international economic landscape.

EVFTA is a trade agreement that represents the EU's deepest level and range of commitments to a developing economy. As for Vietnam, EVFTA is a new-generation free trade agreement, demonstrating Vietnam's high level of integration and commitment to sustainable economic and trade development. Therefore, the pact must reflect both the commitments of Vietnam and the EU, and also show the balance and harmony of interests of the two sides. That is the basis, advantage and challenge when related contents are unified and promoted. The final result has been deemed satisfactory by both sides.

The negotiation, signing and ratification of EVFTA and EVIPA also underwent many difficult times. EVFTA split into two agreements, one on trade - EVFTA, and the other on investment - EVIPA, when the two sides almost reached agreement and new issues emerged, partly due to the internal process of the EU - a group of 28 member countries at the time of signing and partly due to the impact of various trends and changes in the region and the world, especially at the time of signing and ratifying the agreements, reflecting great challenges we had to tackle to push the EU and work with the EU to reach the current outcome together.

It must be emphasized that the process of bringing EVFTA and EVIPA into reality was directly and firmly directed by the Prime Minister and central leaders, and enthusiastically supported by the business community of the two sides, including VCCI. We still remember that in the final stage of signing and ratifying the two agreements, many of our official delegations at all levels met, exchanged with, informed and advocated EU partners to solve emerging matters. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs alone held two delegations just before the voting sessions in the European Parliament (EP) in early 2020, helping achieve a very positive voting result of EVFTA and EVIPA at the EP.

Now, EVFTA is already officially effective. What are policies and plans does Vietnam have to strengthen diplomatic and economic development cooperation with the EU?

As I said above, EVFTA is a strategic, comprehensive and balanced new-generation free trade agreement for both sides, expected to be an important helping hand to reach growth targets and improve the size and quality of the two economies, especially the Vietnamese economy that is being accelerated by the cause of modernization and industrialization, to overcome and mitigate damage caused by COVID-19 impacts, and at the same time reach a better position in production and supply value chains, which are rapidly shifting regionally and globally.

To realize those expectations, Vietnam needs to effectively carry out the Government's EVFTA Action Plan. Here, there is a need to ensure smooth information, quickly complete regulations and policy frameworks, especially mobilize adequate resources for effective organization and improved enforcement capacity of authorities and each business and industry association concerned. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other ministerial agencies are willing to coordinate with VCCI and businesses to strictly fulfil Vietnam's commitments, try to seize opportunities and take advantage of cooperation, support partners to improve production capacity, product quality, business, cooperation and investment connections, and build consumption and import-export networks to make the most of advantages brought by EVFTA.

Needless to say, the EU and its member states are all high potential partners. We already have a favorable background built on the results of 30-year cooperation and many new opening prospects for the time being. EVFTA and EVIPA are part of a common vision that Vietnam and the EU share for the development of bilateral relations in this fourth decade, to deepen comprehensive partnerships in politics and security, in economy and development, in inter-regional connectivity and in coordinated response to global challenges for a world of peace, cooperation and prosperity, for an indispensable business cooperation environment for the business community of both sides.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the two sides had a lot of close and regular sharing, support and coordination, which reflects an effective relationship. More broadly and more comprehensively speaking, both at present and in the future, Vietnam - an active member in ASEAN and the international community, currently the Chair of ASEAN 2020 and a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council in the 2020 - 2021 period - and the EU, which is making every effort to strengthen connectivity, maintain presence and voice in the world and in the Asia-Pacific, and strengthen relations with ASEAN, are two bridgeheads for a connection that keeps both Vietnam and the EU and their two economies going strong.

Source: Vietnam Business Forum