02/13/2020, 15.52
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Trade: EU opens up to Vietnam, penalises Cambodia

The European Union gets human rights provisions included in its trade deal with Vietnam, its second largest trading partner in Southeast Asia. The Europeans will be able to monitor labour and environmental protection in Vietnam. The European Commission withdrew some tariff preferences from Cambodia because of its violation of Cambodians’ political rights.


Brussels (AsiaNews/Agencies) – The European Parliament yesterday gave the go-ahead to a free trade agreement with Vietnam, which is formally set to come into force at the start of this summer, after it is ratified by Vietnam.

Vietnam Minister of Industry and Trade, Trần Tuấn Anh, said that Vietnam’s National Assembly will ratify the Vietnam-EU free trade agreement at its upcoming meeting

The deal, which effectively removes tariff barriers between the two parties, also includes rights provisions, such as a commitment to labour rights, environmental protection and the Paris Agreement on climate.

As a result of negotiations with the EU, Vietnam has already ratified some conventions of the International Labour Organisation (a UN agency) and has changed its labour code.

The trade agreement also commits Vietnam to respect European standards for the protection of consumer rights, and introduces rules to encourage the participation of European companies in public tenders in Vietnam.

Vietnam is the EU's second largest trading partner after Singapore among members of the Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN).

EU-Vietnam trade (goods and services) was worth €53 billion (US billion), plus more than €6 billion (US.6 billion) in foreign direct investment stock in 2017, making the EU one of Vietnam’s largest foreign investors.

The EU-Vietnam agreement does not contain any specific provisions on political or religious rights. However, it does envisage the possibility that one party might take "appropriate" action if the other commits serious human rights offences.

A similar clause is included in the free trade agreement between the EU and Singapore, which has been in force since November 2019.

By contrast, the EU has taken a tougher position vis-à-vis Cambodia. On the same day that the European parliament ratified the agreement with Vietnam, the European Commission decided to withdraw part of the tariff preferences granted in Cambodia, affecting 20 per cent of Cambodian exports to the EU, in particular garments, footwear and sugar.

For Josep Borrell, High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, the Cambodian government left the Commission no choice, given the systematic violation of Cambodians’ political rights and freedom of expression.

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