When you look back at where the European Union and Vietnam were in 1990, it is incredible to see how much progress we have both made over the last 30 years.
Back then, the EU, or the European Economic Community as it was then called, had only 12 member countries.
But 1990 was a momentous year in Europe, with the historic reunification of Germany, which in turn set the stage for the eventual enlargement of the European Union to the 27 member states that we have today, making us the world’s largest trade block, number one donor of international aid and major promoter of international peace and security.
Thanks to economic reforms from the adoption of the Doi Moi (Renovation) policy in 1986, Vietnam has become one of the region’s fastest growing economies. In 1990, Vietnam’s per capita GDP was less than 100 USD, while today is more than 2,700 USD; total foreign trade was only 5 billion USD, compared with more than 550 billion USD today; and EU-Vietnam trade was only less than 200 million USD, against more than 50 billion USD according to the latest figures.
Our diplomatic relations actually started with a joint humanitarian programme aimed at re-settling over 100,000 Vietnamese “boat people”. And development cooperation is still important, with an on-going portfolio of around EUR 250 million in grants.
But now, 30 years later, Vietnam has become one of the most dynamic countries in the Asia-Pacific region, and our cooperation extends to many important areas such as trade, environment, energy, science and technology, good governance, as well as culture, migration, the fight against corruption and organized crime, as well as peace and security.
Indeed, Vietnam has become an attractive partner for the European Union, bilaterally, as well as through its membership of ASEAN and in the UN, where it has shown a clear commitment to multilateralism and the international rules-based order.
It is in this context that we recently signed a Framework Participation Agreement, which is a military-to-military agreement, allowing Vietnam to participate in missions and operations under an EU flag. This is the first such agreement signed with an ASEAN country and contributes to the EU’s work in the area of global peace and security.
To get a picture of the phenomenal progress in our relations over the last 30 years, you need only look at our recently launched EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, the first of its kind between the EU and a developing country, to see how far we have come together since those early days.
This agreement has the potential to be a game changer for our relations, and strongly emphasises our shared conviction that trade is essential to growth, job creation and sustainable development.
But to be truly successful and mutually beneficial it will also need commitment in terms of norms and standards, rule of law, and human rights, elements that are crucial to businesses and investors.
We celebrate the 30th anniversary of our relations in unprecedented times, where COVID-19 has transformed the global landscape and created a more challenging, disunited and potentially dangerous world. This calls for further strengthening our partnership, on a bilateral and multilateral level, to uphold the international rules-based order and promote peace and prosperity through a sustainable recovery.
The EU stands ready meet these challenges hand-in-hand with Vietnam.