The National Assembly of Vietnam has ratified the Europe-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA), and it came into effect in August. Over the next 10 years, the EVFTA will cut or eliminate 99 % of tariffs on trade between the two sides. Negotiations between the EU and Vietnam began in 2012 but remained stalled for several years over the latter’s refusal to accept human rights and environmental clauses. With the agreement now ratified, the hard work of monitoring now begins.
In a question to the European Commission submitted on 9 September 2020, Danish Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Marianne Vind of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, asked the Commission to respond to “how has it addressed human rights concerns during the negotiations of the free trade agreement with Vietnam?”
In a more pointed question, MEP Vind asked the Commission “can it explain how it plans to monitor human rights developments in Vietnam in order to uphold commitments made in the agreement?”
In closing, MEP Vind requested more information on and enquired “in future how will the Commission ensure that the impact of trade agreements on human rights is taken into account to an even greater degree before it concludes trade agreements?”
On 18 November, Executive Vice-President Valdis Dombrovskis (An Economy that Works for People), responded to this question on behalf of the European Commission. In his answer, he stated that “the respect of human rights is a fundamental element in EU-Vietnam relations. This is most prominently reflected by the essential element’s clause in the EU-Vietnam Partnership and Cooperation Agreement, which binds that agreement with the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement”.
Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis explained that “this legally binding link allows to take appropriate measures — including suspending the agreements — in case of severe and systematic violations of human rights” and “the Trade Agreement also creates specific bilateral institutional structures allowing for a dialogue on any matter of concern relating to this Agreement”.
He further reported that “the Trade Agreement’s chapter on Trade and Sustainable Development includes provisions regarding the respect for all core labour standards and ratification of fundamental International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions and their effective implementation” and that “this chapter foresees setting up domestic advisory groups and the Trade and Sustainable Development Committee, which create additional channels to the existing instruments through which to address core labour rights concerns”.
Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis underlined that “the EU closely monitors human rights in Vietnam through its Delegation in Hanoi, contacts with civil society, exchange of information with United Nations agencies and like-minded countries, and meetings with the national authorities” and “the yearly Human Rights Dialogue allows for an in-depth discussion on all human rights matters”.
Finally, Executive Vice-President Dombrovskis declared that “since 2011, Sustainability Impact Assessments have analysed the impact of trade agreements on human rights on a systematic basis and accompany their negotiation” and added that “the Guidelines on Human Rights Impact Assessments, which were published in 2015, provide details of the methodology and minimum requirements for such analyses”.
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