EU asked to halt Vietnam trade pact

The International Federation for Human Rights has called on the European Union (EU) to pause negotiations toward a free trade agreement with Vietnam, to fully evaluate how workers in the country could be affected.

  • Published: 2/05/2013 at 02:23 PM
  • Newspaper section: breakingnews

Protesters in Thailand hold up placards urging the government to be careful of entering into a free trade deal with the EU. The International Federation for Human Rights has called on the EU to pause free trade negotiations with Vietnam, to assess the pact's potential repercussions for human rights. (Photo: Bangkok Post)

The EU began trying to negotiate a free trade agreement with Asean in 2007, but talks stalled in 2009. It then started pursuing bilateral deals with individual Asean countries in 2009, initiating discussions with Vietnam last year.

In an open letter to officials in Brussels, the federation warned that “the EU has an obligation to ensure that its trade agreements do not harm human rights abroad”, arguing that “the Vietnamese authorities continue violating human rights, especially in the domains of freedoms of expression, religion, assembly and violations linked to land evictions”.

The letter claims that such violations could increase unless the EU undertakes a full assessment of how a free trade agreement with the country could affect Vietnamese people. Such an assessment has not been conducted in relation to Vietnam specifically, but only to Asean as a whole.

According to the International Federation for Human Rights, the EU should push Vietnam to make changes in its domestic law, to protect vulnerable people including the poorest workers and farmers, before finalising any agreement.

The news comes weeks before Thailand is due to open negotiations on a free trade agreement with the EU. The first round of talks is expected to take place in Brussels in late May, with the hope of reaching an agreement in 18 months. 

Earlier this month, representatives from charities and businesses gathered in front of the Delegation of the European Union office on Bangkok's Witthayu Road to protest against the planned Thai-EU free-trade agreement. 

One concern is that the agreement would include rules on intellectual property, which could limit Thailand’s access to affordable generic medicines. 

Another is that the price of imported alcohol could be reduced dramatically, threatening local producers and potentially harming public health.

At the end of 2012, the EU successfully concluded talks on a free trade agreement with Singapore. It has also been negotiating with Malaysia since 2010.

Asean as a whole represents the EU's third largest trading partner outside Europe, after the US and China. The EU is Asean’s second largest trading partner after China, accounting for around 11% of trade.

Thailand is the EU's third largest trading partner inside Asean and the EU is Thailand’s third largest trading partner. Trade between the two was worth more than US$41.7 billion in 2012. 

Thailand already has free trade agreements with China, India, Japan, Korea, Australia and New Zealand.

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