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NEWS UPDATES 3 March 2010

EU to start free trade talks with Vietnam

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The European Union said it would start negotiating a free trade pact with Vietnam after the bloc's trade commissioner met Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung on Tuesday.

"The EU and Vietnam have agreed to launch bilateral free trade agreement negotiations," the EU's executive arm, the European Commission, was quoted by AFP as saying in Brussels.

Vietnam's government said on its website it was ready to negotiate with the EU in order to quickly sign an accord. It came after a meeting between EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht and the Vietnamese premier in Hanoi.

Having failed to launch negotiations on a free trade agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations as a whole, the EU is now seeking bilateral talks with the bloc's 10 members.

"We have started negotiations with Asean. But it is obvious that at least at this moment in time it is very difficult to pursue these negotiations because of the very different levels of economic development in the countries concerned," De Gucht explained before meeting the prime minister.

The European bloc is instead focused at present on securing free trade agreements "with major partners within Asean," he said. De Gucht said he would travel to Singapore Wednesday to launch negotiations for a "comprehensive" free trade pact with the city-state.

The 10-nation Asean bloc comprises Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam. ASEAN is the EU's third largest trade partner, after the United States and China.

According to European figures, trade in goods and services between the two blocs rose 25 percent between 2004 and 2008 to 175 billion euros (about 240 billion dollars at current rates).

De Gucht said a free trade agreement with Vietnam, would "greatly contribute to resolving once and for ever" a dispute over the EU's imposition of anti-dumping measures on shoes from the communist country.

At the end of 2009, the EU extended for 15 months anti-dumping duties imposed in October 2006 on shoes with leather uppers from Vietnam and China. In response, Beijing said at the start of February it was filing a complaint with the World Trade Organization.

If the two sides do not reach an agreement in 60 days, the WTO complaints body will rule on the case. De Gucht said Europe had a "very solid case" for its anti-dumping duties.


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