Switzerland hopes seven years of negotiations on a free trade agreement (FTA) between Vietnam and the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) can be wrapped up in 2019.
The EFTA is a regional trade organization and free trade area consisting of four states: Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland. The EFTA ranks 12th in terms of trade in goods and 7th in terms of trade in services in the world. The EFTA states currently have 25 FTAs with a total of 35 partners.
Negotiations on a FTA between Vietnam and the EFTA were launched in March 2012. In the 16th round of negotiations in June 2018, the two sides continued discussions on the pending issues of trade in goods, trade in services, investment, government procurement, intellectual property, rules of origin, and legal issues. However, the 16th round of negotiations did not achieve much progress. The two sides agreed on a number of provisions on investment and technical issues, exchanged and clarified information on requirements and offers, and identified the direction for follow-ups. The delegations agreed to hold the next round of negotiations in early December 2018 in Vietnam.
Vietnamese Ambassador to Switzerland Pham Hai Bang said Vietnam and the EFTA have agreed on a number of points but others are still under discussion, and the two sides will make greater efforts to conclude the negotiations in 2019.
The EFTA was established over 40 years ago, Bang said. By the end of this year, the grouping will sign a FTA with Indonesia, and is expected to sign with Malaysia in early 2019.
Trade turnover between Switzerland and Vietnam has increased over the years, reaching US$1.379 billion in 2014, US$1.473 billion in 2015, US$2 billion in 2016, and US$2.039 billion in 2017. This figure is expected to increase by 7.5 percent in 2018 compared to a year ago. Vietnam has a constant trade surplus with Switzerland.
By June 20, 2018, Switzerland poured US$1.85 billion into some 138 investment projects in Vietnam, ranking 18th among the countries and territories investing in the country. Many major Swiss corporations, such as Nestle and Tetra Pak have reported their successful operations in the country.
In particular, more and more Swiss companies are seeking business and investment opportunities in Vietnam in the fields of pharmaceuticals, environment, climate change and biodiversity.
In agriculture, Swiss innovation leaders operating in Vietnam include Nestle, Tetra Pak, Bucher, Buhler, and Syngenta. They have contributed to building a good reputation for Vietnam’s agricultural products in the international market.
During a visit to Hanoi in April 2018 by Swiss Minister of Environment, Transport, Energy, and Communications Doris Leuthard, the two sides signed a new aviation transport deal that allows Swiss airline Edelweiss Air to operate a direct route linking Zurich and Ho Chi Minh City starting this November, creating opportunities for bilateral tourism and trade cooperation.
Simon Bosshart, director for Asia-Pacific at Switzerland Tourism, said a direct route linking Zurich and Ho Chi Minh City makes it more convenient for Swiss tourists in particular and European passengers in general to visit Vietnam.
After seven years of negotiations, Switzerland wants to conclude the signing of a FTA between the two sides, providing opportunities for cooperation in various fields, especially trade, investment and tourism. Vietnam wants Swiss investors to expand their investments in the country. The Vietnamese government is working to improve the business and investment environment to create favorable conditions for investors. Vietnam expects Swiss investment in fields in which Switzerland has expertise and Vietnam has demand, such as finance and banking, manufacturing, and pharmaceuticals.