Vietnam’s National Assembly officially approved the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement (EVFTA) on 8 June 2020, which is expected to take into effect as early as in August 2020.
EVFTA will eliminate nearly all tariffs (over 99%) between the EU and Vietnam. However, textile and apparel (T&A) are among a few exceptions that will not be able to enjoy duty-free treatment on day one. Specifically:
- The EU will eliminate duties with more extended staging periods (up to 7 years) for some sensitive products in the textile apparel and footwear sectors (see the graphs above).
- By adopting the fabric-forward rules of origin (or the so-called “double transformation”) for apparel items, EVFTA intends to prevent products from a third party (such as China) from flooding the EU market. Specifically, to benefit from preferential access, garments will need to use fabrics produced in Vietnam or the EU. However, through the EVFTA cumulation provision, fabrics originating in South Korea or other ASEAN countries with which the EU has a free trade agreement in force will be considered as originating in Vietnam. (Note: South Korea is a free trade agreement partner of the EU). While China remains the top textile supplier for Vietnam, the EVFTA apparel-specific rules of origin will provide more incentives for Vietnam to reduce its China dependence and restructure its textile and apparel supply chain. On the other hand, the totality of EU textile fabric exports to Vietnam will be liberalized immediately when the agreement enters into force.
- Statistics show that Vietnam was EU’s sixth-largest extra-region apparel supplier in 2019 (after China, Bangladesh, Turkey, India, and Cambodia), accounting for 4.3% in value (or US$4.3 billion). Many of Vietnam’s primary competitors already enjoyed duty-free market access to the EU, such as Turkey (through the Customs Union), Bangladesh, and Cambodia (through the EU Everything But Arms program). EVFTA will provide a level playing field for Vietnam, which is expected to see a continuous robust growth of its apparel exports to the EU and gain additional market shares in the years to come. Meanwhile, not eligible for any EU preferential duty benefit, apparel exports from China are likely to face intensified competition in the EU market after the implementation of EVFTA.
- EVFTA may further encourage investment in Vietnam’s textile industry. Notably, EVFTA and CPTPP together will make Vietnam one of the very few apparel exporters in the world that can enjoy duty free market access (though not immediately) to both the EU and Japan (or 40% of the world’s total apparel import market). That being said, restrained by the country’s relatively small population, the apparel industry is increasingly facing the challenge of competing for labor with other export-oriented sectors in Vietnam, which may also try to expand their production and export by taking advantage of the CPTPP and EVFTA.