EU-Vietnam trade deal has labour & environmental rules but NGOs criticise dispute settlement (ISDS) contents

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4 November 2019

NGOs urge EU to postpone consent to EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement over poor human rights commitments

Author: Various NGOs

"Joint NGO Letter on EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement", 4 Nov 2019

...We, the undersigned Vietnamese and international civil society organisations, are writing to urge you to ensure that the European Parliament postpones its consent to the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) and Investment Protection Agreement (IPA) until certain human rights benchmarks are met by the Vietnamese government.

...[I]n recent years, the Vietnamese government has intensified its crackdown on human rights defenders, members of civil society, religious groups and individuals who express opinions deemed critical of the government or otherwise disfavoured. The rights to free expression, opinion, association and assembly remain strictly curtailed and the judiciary is under tight state control, as are the press, civil society, and religious groups...

...[W]e regret that negotiations for the EVFTA and the IPA did not lead to more tangible human rights commitments from the Vietnamese authorities than the meagre ones included in the EVFTA’s sustainable development chapter, and that even for those there is no binding timeline nor penalties foreseen in case of failure to comply... [W]e are concerned about the monitoring of the implementation of those agreements, which the EVFTA’s text assigns to independent civil society from both sides, overlooking the fact that there is hardly any independent civil society in Vietnam... Finally, we remain deeply concerned about Vietnam’s reluctance to revise its penal code, whose provisions criminalising peaceful criticism of the government render de facto impossible the full enjoyment of the rights enshrined in the International Labour Organisation’s Conventions to which Vietnam is or has pledged to become a party...

For all these reasons, the ongoing procedure at the European Parliament...represents the last, powerful opportunity to leverage these deals to secure concrete human rights improvements in Vietnam...

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6 July 2019

EU & Vietnam seals free trade agreement that includes rules on labour & environmental protections

Author: Jenny Vaughn, Asia Times

"Vietnam and EU sign free trade deal", 1 July 2019

The European Union and Vietnam....signed a long-awaited free trade...agreement....

...The EU-Vietnam free trade pact will eventually see duties slashed on 99% of Europe’s imports from Vietnam.

Billed as a so-called next generation deal, it also includes rules around labour rights and environmental and intellectual property protections.

...EU-Vietnam free trade negotiations kicked off seven years ago, and the EU has come under fire for not putting enough pressure on Vietnam to improve its dismal rights record.

...Malmstrom said rights issues were raised throughout negotiations and the trade agreement would allow the EU to “engage rather than to isolate” Vietnam on human rights.

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28 June 2019

Investment agreement between EU & Vietnam undermines labour rights, threatens social & environment protection, says expert

Author: Lora Verheecke, EU Observer

"EU-Vietnam trade deal a bad day for workers' rights", 25 Jun 2019

Behind the smiles and handshakes, the signature of the EU-Vietnam trade and investment deals - being agreed on Tuesday (25 June) and to be signed at the end of this week - have dire consequences for human well-being and our ability to prevent climate and ecological breakdown.

The deals bear all the hallmarks of the ones with the USA and Canada that caused so much public outcry a few short years ago, but with a twist.

Once again, the inclusion of an Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system threatens public budgets and put social and environmental protections are under threat...

But this time, the EU is salting the wound by pushing these corporate courts on a country where citizens have precious few rights in the first place – there is not a single independent trade union in Vietnam.

Meanwhile, freedom of speech could barely be more curtailed – it ranks fifth-last on the World Press Freedom Index, ahead of only China, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Eritrea.

The Vietnamese experience with investment deals and the ISDS system shows that this deal can be used by foreign investors to sue the country's government and empty its public coffers.

ISDS has already been used by two oil firms to avoid paying taxes in the country.

In this lawsuit, one of the eight current ISDS cases against Vietnam, two companies are suing the Vietnamese government for receiving a tax bill after the takeover of one company (ConocoPhillips Vietnam) by another (Perenco).

ConocoPhillips made a profit of $896m [€787m] on this sale, and refuses to pay taxes on this gain...

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