Ministers, esteemed guests,
We are honoured to be here with you today on this important occasion. Trade is the bond which binds nations and regions together, and the European Union and Vietnam have much to offer each other, and much to gain, from a strong trading partnership.
Our visit to Vietnam is a part of a series of visits to Asian countries where important opportunities exist for EU agri-food exports. Our aim is to promote the quality and diversity of European food and drink products. This mission will continue in Indonesia, while the business delegation will also make a stop in Singapore.
Vietnam is a very important growing and dynamic economy. During our mission, we will attend a variety of events designed to strengthen business relations between Vietnam and the EU.
At the same time we wish to introduce and explain to Vietnamese consumers and agri-food professionals the quality of our products.
And I want to be very clear that this not a one-way street. The beauty of a solid trading relationship is that both sides benefit.
Enhancing our trade relations with Asia is among the EU Commission's top priorities, in particular after the Russian ban on EU agri-food products.
And we have a solid platform upon which to build an even stronger trading cooperation.
After 3 years of negotiations, in December 2015 we concluded the EU-Vietnam FTA. Vietnam is the 2nd country in South-East Asia (after Singapore), with whom the EU has concluded a FTA. The EU also has an agreement with South Korea in force since July 2011.
These agreements set a precedent for other trade deals that will be negotiated in the region with ASEAN countries like Malaysia and Philippines.
The EU-Vietnam agreement is a very good outcome. It is well balanced for both sides. We can say with confidence that our economies are complementary. This means there are great opportunities for our agricultural sectors when it comes to market access. And it will also lead to increased EU investment in Vietnam.
From an agri-food perspective, the main achievements include:
The opening of markets by liberalizing 99% of trade within a maximum of 10 years after the entry into force of the agreement.
The protection of a list of 169 EU Geographical indications is also very important for us. By affording them a high level of protection, these GIs will be able to coexist with prior registered trademarks in Vietnam. The EU GIs cannot become generic, nor can they unilaterally be invalidated by the other party.
Today's seminar will give important insights into the EU-Vietnam FTA and participants will be able to discuss relevant topics in detail.
I believe our visit comes at the right time, in that it allows business operators to establish contacts in advance of the entry into force of the FTA - expected in early 2018. By planting the seeds now, we can reap the fruits when the moment comes.
However, I must remind you that we need to continue working closely together to ensure the final implementation of the FTA within a reasonable timeframe.
A final agreement must be of real mutual benefit, satisfying both parties. And there are still issues which need to be addressed.
To give just one example, since the conclusion of the FTA Vietnam has reformed its Special Consumption Tax in a way that has a clear negative impact on market-access opportunities for European wines and spirits. This is something we need to work together to find common ground on. A final deal must be balanced and beneficial for us both.
I have the pleasure to be accompanied during this visit by 42 representatives of EU businesses active in sectors with large potential in Vietnam. Some of them represent very big companies, others come from small enterprises.
Whatever the size of the company, we are all working together in order to highlight the quality of our products and introduce to importers and authorities the stories and values behind our agricultural production.
The total turnover of the European companies that are represented in this mission is in excess of 170 billion euros. They are serious and experienced operators, who are keen to develop strong, positive business relationships with their Vietnamese counterparts.
In Europe, we place a strong emphasis on safety and quality in our production methods. European farmers and food producers know that the highest standards must be maintained if they want to remain competitive in the global market.
We are confident that when consumers become familiar with our products, they will choose them for their families.
Because this notion of quality does not only apply to the final product but also to the production process itself, as well as to the welfare of farm animals and workers, and last but not least the soil and the environment.
Today's consumers want to know where the food they eat comes from, and how exactly it was produced.
EU farmers must meet some of the most stringent requirements in the world regarding environmental protection, animal welfare and the use of pesticides and veterinary drugs.
These rules on food safety, environmental conditions, and animal welfare ensure that our products are safe and traceable. But by the same token, our rules are often stricter than those which apply to their competitors elsewhere in the world.
Quality is an issue for every farmer and buyer, whether dealing with commodities produced to basic standards or with the high-end quality products in which Europe excels. We are strongly encouraging EU farmers to build on their high quality reputation to sustain competitiveness and profitability.
Let me conclude by wishing you an interesting and productive seminar. Thank you, and good luck!