EU urged not to ratify trade deal with Vietnam

Members of Vietnam’s Brotherhood for Democracy received lengthy jail terms this year for refusing to end their activities.

Pressure is growing on the European Union to reject a free trade agreement with Vietnam because of growing political repression in the Southeast Asian nation.

The agreement would cut tariffs and help boost trade and investment but has yet to been ratified by the European Parliament.

In an open letter to the parliament, organisations campaigning for more democratic government in Vietnam highlighted the recent arrest of independent bloggers in the country.

“It would be a disgrace if European countries were to ratify free trade with a country that is one of the world’s worst enemies of freedom of expression, freedom of the press and freedom of association,” said the letter, which was signed by some 90 organisations.

Vietnam has stepped up internal repression over the last two years amid signs that it no longer takes Western pressure on human rights seriously.

President Obama lifted a decades old arms embargo on Vietnam in the final months of his administration and President Trump has shown even less interest in promoting a human rights agenda in authoritarian countries.

The signatories, including Reporters Without Borders and the Brotherhood for Democracy in Vietnam, hope that the European Union will resume pressure by linking trade to improvements in human rights.

Vietnam suffered a setback when the Trump Administration pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement in 2016 and is anxious to see ratification of the European pact.

Hanoi’s standing in European capitals, however, has been severely damaged by the abduction of a fugitive Vietnamese oil company executive from Berlin last summer.

Germany angrily dismissed Vietnam’s denials of involvement and expelled Vietnamese diplomats. The incident also severely embarrassed another EU member state, Slovakia, following charges in the German media that Vietnamese agents used the country as a transit point to smuggle the executive back to Hanoi.

The European Parliament passed a resolution late last year
expressing concern about a rise in the number of arrests and convictions of Vietnamese citizens for expressing their opinions.