European lawmakers are set to approve free trade and investment deals between the EU and Vietnam that will eliminate almost all tariffs over the next ten years, despite concerns about the human rights situation in the country.
After an influential Parliament trade committee recommended last month that the agreements should be adopted, lawmakers will cast their votes Wednesday in Strasbourg, France, during a plenary session.
The EU hopes the deal will result in 15 billion euros ($16.5 billion) a year in additional exports from Vietnam to the continent by 2035, with EU exports to Vietnam expanding by more than eight billion per year.
Vietnam mainly exports telecommunications equipment, food and clothing to Europe, while the EU's list of exports to the Southeast Asian nation includes machinery, transport equipment, chemicals and agricultural goods.
Geert Bourgeois, the lawmaker in charge of steering the agreements through Parliament, said the deals are also strengthening economic ties with Vietnam amid fierce competition from China and the U.S.
"We've been negotiating for eight years and it's important that we come to an agreement now. If not, I'm sure Sino-Vietnamese relations will become more important," he said.
A group of 28 NGOs has asked EU lawmakers to postpone their consent to the deals until Vietnam shows it is committed to protecting labor and human rights, but the agreements largely enjoy the support of the Parliament's three main political groups.
"We are very concerned about political prisoners and have stressed to the Vietnamese authorities the importance of human rights," Bourgeois said. "Vietnam is responding in a positive manner and from this month a European Parliament delegation will monitor the situation. We have also agreed the establishment of an inter-parliamentary delegation between Parliament and Vietnam's national assembly."
Once adopted by lawmakers, the deals need to be approved by the EU council and ratified by all 27 member states.