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Rights Group Files Complaint Over EU-Vietnam Trade Talks


European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton (l) with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh before their talks in Hanoi, Aug. 12, 2014.

European Union's top diplomat Catherine Ashton (l) with Vietnamese Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh before their talks in Hanoi, Aug. 12, 2014.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) says it has filed a complaint with the European Union over its free trade talks with Vietnam.

FIDH Permanent representative to the EU in Brussels, Gaëlle Dusepulchre, says in an interview with VOA's Vietnamese service the group wants the EU Ombudsperson to address the European Commission’s refusal to take human rights into account in negotiations with Hanoi.

She adds that a human rights impact assessment for Vietnam will help with EU trade talks elsewhere in the region.

"The [commission] is also negotiating with other countries from the ASEAN region, like Burma for example. We think the problem will be [similar] with those countries. So, if we have good recommendations for Vietnam, we will be in a better position for those countries," said Dusepulchre.

The Associated Press quotes top EU diplomat Catherine Ashton as saying the EU was making progress in free trade talks with Vietnam, but a concerted push would be needed to reach an agreement this year. She made the remarks after meeting with officials in Hanoi on Tuesday.

The EU is already Vietnam's largest export market, with shipments worth $28 billion last year.

Last month, more than 30 members of Congress signed a joint letter to U.S. President Barack Obama urging him to link Vietnam’s human rights violations and labor issues with inclusion in a new Trans-Pacific Partnership deal.

Citing numerous on-going rights violations in Vietnam, the letter stressed: “In order for Congress to support a TPP agreement with Vietnam, it is critical that the Vietnamese government make dramatic improvements in its human rights practices, reform its laws to meet international labor standards and demonstrate a clear commitment to the rule of law.”

A leading campaigner for Vietnam’s TPP membership being tied to human rights is Nguyen Dinh Thang, President of Boat People SOS, a U.S.- based advocacy group.

Thang says that a majority of representatives and a number of senators have voiced concern over TPP membership for Vietnam without conditions on rights improvements.

“There are now two main obstacles: in the Senate, and most importantly, in the House. About 250 to 260 House members have disagreed with letting Vietnam join TPP if there is no fundamental rights improvement from Hanoi. Some senators, including Chairman of East Asian & Pacific Affairs Subcommittee Ben Cardin, have also made clear in statements that they don’t want to consider allowing Vietnam to be a TPP member without Hanoi’s significant improvements on human rights," he said.

Thang said the aim was not to obstruct TPP for Vietnam, but to bring the free trade deal to a rights-respected country, a more democratic Vietnam.

Senator Cardin says the main goal of the TPP agreement is to create a level playing field for competition. "We want it to be a high quality agreement. And for a high quality agreement we believe there needs to be standards dealing with governance that deal not only with labor issues, but with anti-corruption issues," he said.

Obama administration officials have frequently called for Vietnam to improve its human rights record.

Both the US and Vietnam say they want to see a TPP deal completed by the end of this year.

The TPP is a free trade agreement that is being negotiated by 12 Pacific rim countries, including the United States and Vietnam.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Vietnamese service.

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