VietNamNet Bridge – Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President of the European Commission (EC) Jose Manuel Barroso have issued a statement detailing the two sides’ orientations to conclude negotiations on the European Union-Vietnam free trade agreement (FTA) when they met in Brussels, Belgium on Monday as part of the Prime Minister’s official visit to Europe. In an emailed interview with The Saigon Times Daily, Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to Vietnam Franz Jessen clarifies when negotiations over the FTA will be concluded and the benefits it will bring about for both sides. Excerpts:
Could you say more about the orientations?
The two leaders have agreed that negotiations should be intensified to achieve an ambitious outcome in all market access areas not only goods but also services, investment and public procurement. The objective is to realize an effective liberalization of market access thus enabling the modernization and the optimisation of the economy. Concerning the rules which have to enable and protect this trade liberalization, negotiators should agree, among others on proper disciplines, allowing for intellectual property protection as well as the protection of investment, fair competition with state-owned enterprises and elimination or limitation of export duties as well as other restrictions on export.
Ambassador and Head of the European Union Delegation to Vietnam, Franz Jessen - Photo: EU Delegation to Vietnam
The 10th round of negotiations just took place last week in Belgium and the 9th round of negotiations was earlier held in Danang. What are the main achievements of these rounds?
- Both the 9th and 10th rounds were productive and showed some good moves on both sides which remain committed to swift progress. New offers were tabled and others will be tabled in the coming rounds of negotiations so as to address key interests of the parties whether on goods where Vietnam has strong expectations on textile, footwear, agriculture products, and fisheries; other fields like services, investment, government procurement were also subject to intense discussion. The significant progress achieved has led to a substantial degree of agreement in all areas of negotiation.
What are the biggest obstacles that the two sides are facing? How were those obstacles addressed in the meeting of Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung with the EU leaders?
- There are no particular “big” obstacles but it is more an issue of adjusting the expectations and the needs of both parties which differ from each other by their sizes and levels of development. A strong political commitment is needed to achieve this and this is the direction which was given by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and President of the EC Jose Manuel Barroso.
What are European negotiators’ view about reforming state-owned enterprises and government procurement issues in Vietnam?
- From the European negotiators’ perspective, it is the equal footing and fair competition between state-owned enterprises and other private operators, whether they are foreign or domestic, which is the main focus. For the government procurement field, it is clear that both Vietnam and the EU would like to increase their market opportunities in supplying government procurement needs. It should be kept in mind that government procurement is paid with taxpayer’s money. Therefore, Vietnam will also benefit from savings resulting from the opening to foreign suppliers in obtaining more diversified supplies at optimum prices.
Have the two sides reached agreement on the issue of geographical indications?
- Both sides have extensive legislation and numerous products protected by geographical indications and they have an obvious interest in the mutual recognition of these indications. For the Vietnamese products, it should be underlined that such recognition will open a potential market of over 500 million consumers. The negotiations are progressing swiftly but the issue is complex and requires further detail discussions as they involve hundreds of geographical indications.
The time for the two most recent rounds of negotiations was very short. Are the two sides under pressure of timing for the conclusion of the FTA negotiations? Does the new tenure of the European Commission affect the negotiations?
- There is no pressure of timing for either side but both want an early conclusion of the negotiations so as to be able to benefit from trade liberalization and boost their mutual exchanges. The leaders have agreed to complete the work with a view to conclude the negotiations in the next few months and that will require an intensification of the rounds of negotiations.
After the conclusion of the negotiations, will the EU recognize Vietnam as a market economy?
- It is clear that the completion of the FTA will help the successful integration of Vietnam, as a market economy, into the global economy.