NGOs Ask EU Parliament to Vote Against EU-Vietnam FTA And IPA Over Human Rights Issues

By Eugene Whong
vietnam-eu-fta-hanoi-june30-2019.jpg European Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström (L), Romania's Minister for Business Environment, Trade and Entrepreneurship Ștefan-Radu Oprea (C), and Vietnam's Industry and Trade Minister Tran Tuan Anh (2nd from R) exchange documents during the signing ceremony of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement in Vietnam's capital Hanoi, June 30, 2019.

A total of 28 NGOs Tuesday urged the European Parliament (EP) to postpone consent to the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) until Vietnam’s government agrees to protect the rights of laborers and ensure human rights.

The FTA was signed in June 2019, and is scheduled to be voted on in the European Parliament for approval next week.

In a letter drafted to members of the European Parliament (MEP), the NGOs expressed regret that even though Vietnam had failed to fulfill requests to improve human rights to the satisfaction of MEPs, the International Trade Committee (INTA) voted to quickly consent to both agreements, going against recommendations of the Foreign Affairs Committee (AFET) and ignoring the pleas of NGOs, both international and Vietnamese.

NGOs signing the letter included Human Rights Watch, Defend the Defenders, The 88 Project, and the Independent Journalists Association of Vietnam.

“There are notable precedents of the European Parliament setting human rights benchmarks to be met before giving their consent to bilateral deals in order to promote human rights progress,” the NGOs said, citing a 2016 decision to consent to a textile trade deal with Uzbekistan only after Tashkent demonstrated it had taken steps to end child labor.

The NGOs also pointed to the EP’s March 2019 refusal to ratify the EU Turkmenistan Partnership and Cooperation Agreement (PCA) because Ashgabat had failed to advance human rights and protect the rule of law.

The European Parliament should take the same approach with Vietnam, withholding Parliament’s consent and approving a parallel resolution laying out the human rights conditions that Vietnam should meet for MEPs to greenlight the deal,” the NGOs said.

The groups made four recommendations that they said should be “minimum requirements” for the EP to agree to the deals with Hanoi.

These were: amending or repealing “draconian laws,” especially those used to detain activists, journalists and human rights defenders; the release of political prisoners; a commitment to, before 2021, ratify ILO Convention No. 87 (which ensures freedom of association and protects the right to organize); and the creation of an independent monitoring and complaints mechanism for those who would be harmed by the EVFTA and IPA.

The NGOs said that if on Feb. 11 MEPs voted to consent to the agreements they would be sending a message to Hanoi that they are not serious in their calls for human rights improvement.

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