Vietnamese Ambassador to Belgium cum Head of the country’s delegation to the European Union (EU) Pham Sanh Chau has expressed optimism at the progress of negotiations for a free trade agreement between Vietnam and the EU, and between the EU and ASEAN.

He was speaking at a conference on economic and trade relations between the EU and ASEAN recently held by the International Trade Committee and the External Policy Department of the European Parliament in Brussels.

Chau said the FTA negotiations between Vietnam and the EU are a national priority as the EU is the country’s most important trading partner.

Last year, the EU surpassed the US to become the largest importer of Vietnamese goods, worth a total of 20.31 billion USD - up 22.71 percent over the previous year. Vietnam imported 8.79 billion USD worth of goods from the union, an increase of 13.48 percent compared to 2011, he noted.

Two rounds of negotiations between the two sides have ended with positive results, he added. The next round will take place in Hanoi this April.

Speaking at the event, Mauro Petriccione, Director for Asia and Latin America at the Trade Department of the European Commission and Chief Negotiator for the EU-Vietnam FTA negotiations, affirmed that ASEAN is now the third largest partner of the EU, behind the US and China.

ASEAN consumes 10.7 percent of the EU’s exported goods, and ships 9.4 percent of its exported products to Europe, he said, adding that the ten-member regional grouping and its 600 million residents will continue to be an important partner to the EU in the 2013-2017 period.

The EU is also negotiating a FTA with Malaysia. It concluded negotiations with Singapore in December last year, and is pursuing negotiations with other ASEAN member countries including the Philippines and Thailand.

ASEAN or the Association of South-East Asian Nations consists of Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Source: VNA