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I would like to thank all of you for attending this lunch today. I attach great value to exchanges with the business community. This visit to Vietnam is proving to be very positive both for the EU and for Vietnam. It marks an upgrading of our relations.
Before meeting with you today, I met yesterday the whole leadership in Hanoi: the President, the Communist Party of Vietnam Secretary General - I also invited him to Brussels early next year, the Prime Minister and the Speaker of the National Assembly.
The overall assessment of relations is very, very positive. We are going deeper and wider: we just signed a Partnership Cooperation Agreement, we are negotiating a Free Trade Agreement, trade is growing by 20% in 2012 - notwithstanding the adverse economic cycle -, we are expanding our relations on the political and on the security side.
This is an assessment widely shared by the Vietnamese Leadership: there is deep appreciation for the kind of partnership the EU is offering. The EU is the second largest export market for Vietnam, and its first donor. The European Investment Bank signed an agreement worth 150 million euros for environment projects. The EU is seen as a "travelling companion" in Vietnam's path towards modernisation, towards the objective of becoming an industrialised country by 2020.
Against this positive scenario I conveyed a strong message on the need to carry out governance and structural reforms to make the economic trend sustainable and attractive for the investors, especially those from the EU: Vietnam needs to establish a transparent, predictable and stable regulatory framework, free of corruption to ensure investment.
I believe that these messages - I passed them to the four leaders in Hanoi and to the Chairman of the People' Committee in Ho Chi Minh - were well understood. They are aware of the necessity of these reforms.
Of course, they have called strongly for the Market Economy Status (they referred to support already expressed by some Member States). I told them that although they made much progress, they are not yet there.
As regards regional questions, I stressed the EU's commitment to peaceful and cooperative solutions to regional tensions - not to name the maritime security - in accordance with international law. I also expressed support for development of a code of conduct. Clearly the business environment would be among the first to suffer from further tensions.
But, as I said the dynamic is very good. We have to keep the momentum. The FTA is the best tool we have to encourage structural reforms in Vietnam and to achieve improved market access, and a more level playing field. We need a comprehensive and ambitious Free Trade Agreement.
In this regard, Commissioner De Gucht - a fellow compatriot - and his Vietnamese counterpart, Minister for Industry and Trade Hoang, officially launched negotiations on 26 June. A first round of negotiations took place in Hanoi from 8-12 October. I understand that the outcome of the first round of negotiations was positive. Discussions were held in an open and constructive spirit. Both sides were fully engaged.
The Free Trade Agreement has the potential to significantly enhance the bilateral relationship by boosting Vietnam-Europe business relations. It will offer new business opportunities for economic operators on both sides.
A bilateral Free Trade Agreement will ensure sustainable and predictable access for Vietnamese goods to a market of 500 million European consumers; while the EU investors will have the legal certainty that their investments in the ASEAN hub are protected.
The Free Trade Agreement will also provide Vietnam with reliable access to top-quality, advanced and green technologies, and to financial resources from Europe. All this could and should assist Vietnam in advancing towards sustainable development.
This is the third Free Trade Agreement that the EU is negotiating with a country of the ASEAN region after those with Singapore and Malaysia. It is particularly important as it will move our entire game with the region to a new level.
But to achieve these goals we must seek an ambitious agreement with Vietnam:
FTA negotiations will thus require effort, vision and commitment from both the EU and Vietnam.
More than ever, I am convinced that the experience and dynamism of the private sector constitutes an indispensable element in the development of economic and trade relations between the EU and Vietnam. It is through our business presence and the business community that the EU is perceived and appreciated first and foremost, particularly in this part of the world.
I am well aware that the EU, in the form of both the EU Delegation and the Member States' Embassies or Consulates, has worked for several years with EUROCHAM to strengthen business ties between Europe and Vietnam. I met yesterday with the Ambassadors of Member States and I received a message of unity of the EU and of coherence in advancing our agenda in Vietnam. I also received a message of strong support for your work, the work of the EUROCHAM. Recommendations included in your white book were considered particularly helpful.
Maybe before concluding a few words on the situation in Europe and in the Euro zone. I have explained succinctly the key elements of my visit. But my main interest is to listen to you, to understand better your expectations and learn from your experience. I will be therefore glad to answer to your questions and to continue the interesting conversations I have initiated already with many of you.