The European Union will announce the start of free-trade negotiations with Vietnam next week, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht said.
"We will announce this with Minister Hoang next week here in Brussels, and the first negotiating round should take place just after the summer break," De Gucht said at a Friends of Europe conference Tuesday, referring to Vietnamese Minister of Trade and Industry Vu Huy Hoang. "The potential for both sides is enormous."
Trade between the EU and Vietnam, one of the 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, reached 18 billion euros ($22.7 billion) last year. The 27-nation EU began free- trade discussions in 2010 with Singapore and Malaysia, also members of ASEAN.
An agreement with Singapore is likely this year "if both sides make a last effort to bridge the final gaps," De Gucht said, according to an e-mailed copy of his speech. While the EU and Malaysia are "making progress," they "will need some more time to get closer to the finishing line," he said.
"After that, my door remains open," he said. "We are continuing our contacts with a number of other ASEAN member states, including Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand, and Europe will be ready to move whenever they are."