27 November 2007
EU, Vietnam launch talks on new bilateral pact
HANOI (AFP) - The European Union and Vietnam launched talks on a wide-ranging cooperation pact Monday during a visit by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso to the fast-growing Southeast Asian economy.
Barroso — the first head of the EU executive body to visit the communist nation — said a new Vietnam-EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which would replace a 1995 pact, "will broaden and deepen our political agenda."
It would cover areas ranging from trade and investment to science and technology, education, culture, justice, the environment and security, Barroso and Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said in a joint statement.
One of the aims was to "facilitate deeper economic and commercial integration between the European Union and Vietnam preceding a future Free Trade Agreement between the EU and countries of ASEAN," it said.
Vietnam, poor and deeply isolated until the 1990s, saw 8.2 percent economic growth last year and joined the World Trade Organisation in January, increasing investment inflows to more than 10 billion dollars so far this year.
"The changes occurring in Vietnam during the past decade have been dramatic and important, and they have not gone unnoticed by the EU," Barroso said in a statement issued at the start of his three-day visit.
"Vietnam is taking its rightful place in ASEAN alongside more long-standing members," said Barroso, who last week attended a Singapore summit of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations.
The EU bloc is now Vietnam’s largest trading partner, and Dung said both sides hoped to increase the two-way flow of goods and services, which reached 13.4 billion dollars last year, to 15 billion dollars per year by 2010.
Barroso has praised Vietnam’s economic growth and sharp poverty reduction, and said the country was now poised for a larger role on the world stage as it takes a two-year UN Security Council seat in January.
"The time has now come to establish a closer political partnership between the EU and Vietnam, enabling us to tackle more effectively some of the common global challenges we are faced with," he said in his statement.
The bilateral pact, for which negotiations are set to start soon after Barroso’s visit, will also address global challenges such as climate change, terrorism, weapons of mass destruction, poverty and epidemics.
"I encourage Vietnam to become a key partner for the EU in tackling the new set of global challenges which has emerged," Barroso said.
EU-Vietnamese dialogue had broadened in recent years, he added, "to include more political issues such as governance, human rights and anti-corruption."
Barroso said he and Dung discussed human rights, but did not elaborate. Members of the EU delegation, however, raised concern about several recent arrests with the Vietnamese side in the closed-door meeting, a source said.
Vietnam has been widely praised for opening up its economic system since its 1990s doi moi (renewal) reforms, but criticised for maintaining a one-party political system and launching a crackdown on dissidents this year.
Ho Chi Minh City police on November 17 arrested several dissidents, including a French, a US and a Thai citizen who, their overseas supporters said, had met to discuss peaceful change toward a multi-party system.
Barroso was later Monday due to meet Hanoi university students, and Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh. He leaves early Tuesday for China before travelling on to India, after previously visiting Singapore and East Timor.