Vietnam ’s Minister of Industry and Trade Vu Huy Hoang and the EU’s Trade Commissioner Karel De Gutch officially began negotiations for a Free Trade Agreement between Vietnam and the EU in Brussels , Belgium , on June 26.

When delivering a speech prior to the talks, De Gutch said this is an important milestone in relations between the EU and Vietnam as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

“I’m delighted to announce the opening of trade negotiations with Vietnam ,” he said.

“ Vietnam is our third partner in the ASEAN region after Singapore and Malaysia , with whom we launch individual negotiations.”

According to the EU Trade Commissioner, the first round of negotiations should take place just after the summer break.

When reviewing the development of Vietnam-EU relations, Hoang said that Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung and EC President Jose Manuel Barroso agreed to start negotiating a FTA as soon as the details of working teams were completed during the Prime Minister’s visit to the EC on the occasion of the eighth Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in October, 2010.

Both parties discussed the terms of reference for negotiating the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), especially the commitment requirements and capacity of both signatories.

They reached a consensus at a meeting on the sidelines of the 20th ASEAN Summit in Phnom Penh , Cambodia on March 31, 2012.

The EVFTA is a comprehensive free trade agreement that accommodates the principles of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) for the benefit of all. It covers fields such as goods, services, investment and other areas of mutual concern.

During the negotiating process, they will also examine the differences in development between Vietnam and the EU, said the minister.

The EU is an important trade partner for Vietnam , which has a rapidly developing economy and is an attractive destination for EU investors.

The EU mainly imports footwear, textiles, coffee, wood and aquatic products from Vietnam while it exports machinery and other equipment, pharmaceutical products, raw materials for garments, textiles and footwear, steel and fertiliser to the Southeast Asian country.

Therefore, economic deals, especially a FTA, will be of great benefit to both parties, said Hoang.

When talking to a Vietnam News Agency correspondent in Belgium , Minister Hoang stressed that strengthening relations with the EU is one of Vietnam ’s top priorities and in line with the country’s strategy for overseas relations. Vietnam considers the FTA with the EU as important to its trade policy and is determined to speed it up, he said.

The minister said he believes that with goodwill shown from both parties, the FTA will soon come into effect, in the interests of both countries and both business communities.

For his part, De Gutch said there will be plenty of opportunity to successfully complete the signing of the EVFTA in the near future.

The agreement will bring a great deal of economic benefit to both the EU and Vietnam , he said, adding that the EU is still pursuing a FTA with the whole of ASEAN.

Two-way trade between Vietnam and the EU has developed remarkably in recent years with the EU being Vietnam ’s fourth largest investor in 2011 with an investment of 1.77 billion USD or over 12 percent of the country’s total foreign direct investment (FDI).

Since October 2009, the EU has given the green light to the European Commission to negotiate a FTA with each ASEAN member and the EU began negotiating a FTA with Singapore in March 2010 and Malaysia in October 2010.-VNA