EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht will tour three ASEAN countries of Vietnam, Cambodia and Myanmar from March 17-20, with the aim of strengthening trade ties between the EU and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“I’m looking forward to constructive talks with our partners in Southeast Asia”, said the commissioner. “Experience is showing how opening up to trade is helping these dynamic countries raise living standards. At the same time, their markets provide opportunities for European exporters, so we really do have a win-win situation.”

His arrival in Hanoi, also his first stopover, will coincide with the start of the 7th round of negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between the EU and Vietnam, which is slated for March 17-21.

Once completed, the agreement will boost bilateral trade and investment ties and provide more cooperative opportunities for both sides’ businesses. It will cover trade in goods and services, investment, intellectual property rights, non-tariff barriers and food safety and hygiene issues.

Vietnam and the EU have enjoyed strong development in bilateral trade ties. Last year, Vietnam became the EU’s 4th largest trade partner in the ASEAN. In 2013, two-way trade reached nearly 30 billion USD.

In Cambodia, Karel De Gucht will hold talks with Minister of Commerce Sun Chanthol, during which they will discuss activities of the recently-established EU-Cambodia Joint Committee.

Their two-way trade increased to 2.8 billion EUR (3.9 billion USD) in 2013 from 2.1 billion EUR in 2012.

During his first visit to Myanmar, the EU trade commissioner will meet Minister of National Planning and Economic Development Kan Zaw and Minister of Commerce Win Myint. He is expected to launch the negotiations of an EU-Myanmar investment protection agreement.

Two-way trade between the two countries enjoyed a year-on-year increase of 41 percent last year, from 403 million EUR in 2012 to 569 million EUR in 2013.-VNA