EU, Vietnam Agree to pursue Free Trade Pact
The European Union and Vietnam are set to begin negotiating a free-trade agreement after agreeing Saturday on topics to be covered in a future trade pact, flagging Europe's growing desire to develop stronger ties with Southeast Asia's fast-growing economies.
L'Unione Europea e il Vietnam hanno deciso di iniziare i negoziati per l'accordo di libero scambio dopo aver concordato gli argomenti da affrontare per il futuro patto commerciale, segnando il desiderio crescente dell'Europa di sviluppare legami più forti con le economie in rapida crescita del Sud-Est asiatico.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht in a statement described the signing of the agreement with Vietnam as marking "a clear desire to deepen trade relations and improve the business environment between the EU and Vietnam."
The trade relationship improved sharply last year after the EU dropped tariffs on imports of Vietnamese footwear.
Now the two sides aim to eliminate import tariffs and non-tariff barriers to trade in services, while reaching a broader agreement on intellectual property rights and freer competition in each other's markets.
The agreement signals the beginning of a long process. The Commission will have to consult with EU member nations before it can launch formal negotiations with Vietnam, which met with Mr. De Gucht and other EU representatives on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit now under way in Cambodia's capital.
Vietnam is the third member of the ten-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations with which the EU has begun negotiations on a free-trade agreement. The others are Singapore and Malaysia.
In an interview with The Wall Street Journal earlier Saturday, Mr. De Gucht said the EU's strategy is to attempt at network of similar, complementary trade agreements across Southeast Asia until the Asean group is ready to conduct region-to-region free-trade talks.
"We are making sure that these discussions all have the same backbone," Mr. Gucht said, with the hope of helping of one day to create a broader EU-Asean free-trade pact once the Southeast Asian nations more closely integrate their economies, starting in 2015.
Asean, Mr. Gucht added, "is making big efforts towards integration and we would be very pleased if they continue and if they go even faster, because for us the ideal configuration is to have a region-to-region process."
"It's an idea whose time has come," he said.
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[The Wall Street Journal, 31.03.2012]