This article originally appeared at The Brics Post.
Russian officials are speeding up negotiations for Vietnam to join the Moscow-led Customs Union bloc, officials said on Monday. The inclusion of Vietnam in the group would reinforce President Putin’s drive to show Russia will not be isolated by Western sanctions.
The two countries will boost bilateral trade revenue to $7 billion in 2015 and $10 billion in 2020, said Doan Duy Khuong, vice chairman of Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and Industry (VCCI), on Monday. The two sides are also beefing up efforts to conclude negotiations on a free trade agreement, said the official at a Vietnam-Russia business forum held in Hanoi.
Russia expects Vietnam to soon join the Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia as negotiations on the free trade agreement between the union and Vietnam is yielding much progress, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in April this year.
“Russia attaches great importance to the traditional friendly relations with Vietnam and highlights the increasing role of Vietnam in the Asia-Pacific. Russia and Vietnam have the same viewpoints over many regional and international issues. Russia supports Vietnam’s active role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) as well as ASEAN’s role in establishing a new regional architecture,” said Lavrov.
In May this year, Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomed Kazakhstan and Belarus into a new Eurasian Economic Union, with a market of 170 million people, a combined annual GDP of $2.7 trillion and vast energy riches.
“In the past three years trade turnover within the Customs Union has gone up by 50 percent – that is by $23 billion (in 2013 it amounted to $66.2 billion). We also discussed the prospects for other partners joining the Union. We agreed to step up our negotiations, as I already said, with Vietnam on creating a free trade zone,” Putin said in a press conference following a Eurasian Council meet in Astana, Kazakhstan.
The agreement once signed will create breakthrough to realize the targets of bilateral trade revenues in 2015 and 2020, said the chief of the Vietnamese business body on Monday in Hanoi.
“In the past few years, Vietnam has been among countries in Asia-Pacific that Russia sets priorities in political and economic fields,” said Russian Ambassador to Vietnam Andrey G. Kovtun.
The Customs Union guarantees the free transit of goods, services, capital and workforces and coordinates policy for major economic sectors.
Russia is working with Vietnam on 12 big investment projects including the construction of the Ninh Thuan 1 nuclear power plant, oil and gas exploitation by Russia-Vietnam joint-venture companies on Vietnam’s continental shelf and Russian territories, and the expansion and modernization of Vietnam’s Dung Quat oil refinery factory.
Vietnam and Russia established diplomatic ties in 1950. In 2013, two-way trade turnover hit $4 billion, up 7 per cent year-on-year, while in the first seven months of 2014 the figure already stood at around $2 billion.
Meanwhile, the US continues to woo Vietnam as part of its much-hyped “Pivot to Asia”. The United States last week announced it was partially lifting a ban on lethal arms sales to Vietnam which was imposed in 1984.