On Sunday, the European Union and Vietnam signed a landmark free trade agreement (FTA) that will eventually phase out almost all tariffs on goods that flow between the trading bloc and the Southeast Asian nation, after it the deal is ratified by lawmakers on both sides. In a statement, European Union Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström and Vietnam’s Minister of Industry and Trade Tran Tuan Anh, who both inked the agreement, hailed it as “the most ambitious free trade deal between the EU and an emerging economy to date.” Despite the signing of the FTA, Europe remains concerned about Vietnam’s dismal human rights record.
The deal comes as the EU is monitoring Vietnam’s neighbor, Cambodia, to determine whether that country’s exports should continue to enjoy tax-free entry into the European market under the Everything But Arms (EBA) scheme. Europe has been keeping a watchful eye on the authoritarian state’s crackdown on the political opposition, civil society, and the press. The bloc has also expressed deep concern about grave human rights violations in Myanmar. In a recent interview with RFA’s Roseanne Gerin at European Commission headquarters in Brussels prior to the signing of the EU-Vietnam FTA, Malmström discussed the intersection between trade and human rights issues in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Myanmar. The Q&A has been edited for length and clarity.