The President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, will visit Vietnam from October 31 to November 2, which is seen as a display of the EU’s wishes to step up cooperation with the Southeast Asian country.

The visit, the first made by an European Council President to Vietnam since EU-Vietnam diplomatic ties were set up in 1990, is to highlight the EU’s appreciation of the increasing role and position that Vietnam plays in the dynamic Asian region, as well as to study the country’s socio-economic development, renewal and international integration.

During the visit, measures to strengthen bilateral ties in the broader framework of the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA,) as well as at regional and international multilateral forums will be tabled for discussion.

Since the EU officially opened its representative mission in Hanoi in 1996, bilateral ties have developed rapidly. The EU has become one of Vietnam ’s leading partners especially in economics, trade and investment, making an active contribution to the country’s socio-economic development and international economic integration.

In June 2005, the Vietnamese Prime Minister approved a plan to develop Vietnam-EU relations by 2010 with a view to 2015, focusing on building an ‘equal partnership with comprehensive and long-term cooperation’ between Vietnam and the EU.

After nine rounds of talks from June 2008 to October 2010, the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) was initialled on the sidelines of the 8 th Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM-8) in Belgium on October 4, 2010. The agreement was officially signed by Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh and the EU’s Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy in Brussels on June 27, 2012.

The PCA marks a milestone in cooperation between both parties and indicates the broad development of Vietnam-EU relations over the past 20 years, as well as creating a legal foundation for bilateral ties to enter in a new chapter wider scope and at a deeper level.

Senior level visits have regularly exchanged, including Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung’s visit to the European Commission (EC) in October 2010; National Assembly Chairman Nguyen Sinh Hung’s visit to the European Parliament (EP) in December 2011; the visit to Vietnam by EC President Jose Manuel Barroso in November 2007; European Commission Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht visiting in February 2010 and a delegation from the European Parliament in March 2010.

Prime Minister Dung has met with European Council President Herman and EC President Barroso on the sidelines of the Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul in the Republic of Korea . Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh also met with the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Catherine Ashton, on the fringes of the 19 th ASEAN-Europe Ministerial Meeting (AEMM-19) in Brunei in April 2012 before visiting the EU for the official signing of the PCA in June.

During their meetings, senior officials have stated their appreciation of bilateral ties and their wishes to step up cooperation to match their potential and position.

On economic cooperation, the EU is one of Vietnam ’s leading trade partners with two-way trade increasing by 15-20 percent each year, from 4.1 billion USD in 2000 to 24.29 billion USD in 2011. The amount exceeded 18 billion USD in the first eight months of this year, up 23 percent year on year. Of which, Vietnam’s exports to the EU reached 12.69 billion USD while its import turnover was 5.75 billion USD.

The EU is now Vietnam ’s second largest export market, after the US . Vietnam exports mainly footwear, garment, seafood, woodwork, electronics and consumer goods to the EU while it imports machinery, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, fabrics and fertiliser from the market.

In October 2010, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and EC President Barosso announced the start of negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA), with the first round held in Hanoi in October 2012.

EU member countries are now the leading investors in Vietnam . By August 2012, 20 EU countries had invested in Vietnam , operating 1,226 projects with a total registered capital of 4.75 billion USD. Vietnam has 33 projects in 10 EU countries with 107 million USD in registered capital.

The EU is also the second largest bilateral donor of official development assistance (ODA) and the largest provider of non-refundable aid to Vietnam , with over 13 billion USD in ODA pledged during 1996-2012.

The EC and EU member countries have worked closely with Vietnam in a number of priority areas such as institutional assistance, science and technology, education, law, health, finance and banking, agriculture, culture and tourism.-VNA