EU, Vietnam seal free trade deal

The EU and Vietnam on Tuesday announced a free trade deal removing nearly all tariffs, with Brussels calling it a "milestone" on the way to a region-wide agreement with Southeast Asia.

The EU said the agreement in principle followed two and a half years of "intense" negotiations between the 28-nation European Union and Vietnam, whose two-way trade has grown to 28 billion euros (more than $30 billion) in the last 10 years.

"We have a deal. This finely balanced agreement will boost trade with one of Asia's most dynamic economies," EU Trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem announced in Brussels following a phone call with her Vietnamese counterpart Vu Huy Hoang.

In Hanoi, Hoang said the deal would help "integrate Vietnam into the global economy," allow Vietnamese firms to meet international standards and provide benefits for businesses and people on both sides.

Malmstroem told a press conference in Brussels that the two had agreed on "all the political issues", but more legal work was needed to finalise the text and she hoped the deal could take effect in late 2017 or early 2018.

She called the agreement, which follows a similar one with Singapore last year, an "important milestone" in EU ties with the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which includes Vietnam and Singapore. "Our ultimate goal is to have a region-to-region agreement," the former Swedish politician said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini announced meanwhile that she will visit Kuala Lumpur on August 5-6 as part of the EU's drive to "step up its engagement" with ASEAN, which will also include talks on security.

Malmstroem said "there is a large focus on human rights" in the deal and in the broader relationship, warning that the agreement could be suspended if Vietnam fails to respect its obligations. Malmstroem said the agreement, the first that the EU has concluded with a developing country, will remove more than 99 percent of tariffs on goods traded between the two economies over a period of up to seven years.

"The agreement will also create new market access opportunities in services and investment," a statement said.

"Vietnam has agreed to liberalise trade in financial services, telecommunications, transport and postal and courier services," it added.


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