Ann Linde is Minister for Foreign Affairs from September 10, 2019


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Opinion piece from Ministry for Foreign Affairs

Swedish trade minister highlights importance of free trade


Sweden’s Minister of EU Affairs and Trade Ann Linde will be accompanied by the largest ever business delegation during her upcoming official visit to Vietnam from October 4-6. This article was pubished in Vietnam Plus ahead of the visit.

Vietnam and Sweden enjoy a long standing diplomatic and unique relationship. Over the last decades, we have moved from development cooperation into a new phase of partnership, not least as trading partners. While our countries are far apart geographically, we share the conviction that good governance, respect for human rights, the rule of law and adherence to the international rule-based system are determining factors for development. Vietnam has achieved major success in its economic development and has rapidly been moving up the development ladder. Today, Vietnam is a country and a market with significant potential.

In 2015, Vietnam and EU signed a Free Trade Agreement (FTA). The agreement is one of the most ambitious and comprehensive FTAs that the EU has ever concluded with a developing country. It shows Vietnam's dynamic approach in pursuing international integration for the good of its citizens. It will help Vietnam to integrate successfully as a market economy into the global economy.

Like Vietnam, Sweden is a staunch supporter of free trade. The economic and social wellbeing of our respective nations depends on a transparent, rules based and open global trade regime. For us, free trade is the only way going forward.

But while free trade may be indisputable in Vietnam and Sweden, it is increasingly being criticized elsewhere. Today we see a trend in which more people are demanding that the doors we have fought for decades to open, now be closed to both people and trade with the rest of the world. Some people feel that their jobs are being destroyed by global competition and technological developments – and therefore that their life situations are under threat.

The Swedish Government understands that frustration. Essentially, it is about increased inequalities, a lack of security and inadequate welfare. Stagnating or even declining real wages are a reality for many employees in large parts of the EU and the US. At the same time, the safety nets for those who lose their job are often too weak.

But directing anger at trade and development is not only the wrong approach – it is a dangerous approach. The Swedish model shows that development and security goes hand in hand. Secure people are not afraid of progress. In Sweden, the labour movement acknowledges that structural transformation of the labour market is good for workers. Workers compete on the basis of knowledge and skills, which means that globally competitive businesses are needed. Without free trade, Sweden risks missing out on jobs, and losing out to global competition. In the long term, inefficient and unprofitable operations are devastating for wage earners and for our society.

The structural transformation that Sweden has undergone in recent decades has made us one of the world's leading innovation and industrial nations. Since 2014, 120,000 new jobs have been created in Sweden. Today, 1.3 million Swedes are directly or indirectly employed thanks to our exports - a third of the Swedish work force.

The Swedish government has adopted an ambitious export strategy aiming at increasing trade and boost participation of Swedish companies in the global economy. Bilateral trade and investments in Southeast Asia, the growth engine of the world, forms an important part of this aim. By having the second biggest growth rate in the world, Vietnam has a key role to play in the region. With the implementation of the progressive Free Trade Agreement, Swedish trade with Vietnam, and Swedish companies investing in the country, would certainly grow.

More trade would benefit Vietnam and Sweden, as well as the whole of Southeast Asia, by creating new jobs and more prosperous societies. Sweden supports the earliest possible implementation of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, not least as the agreement forms an important building block towards the possibility of a future region-to-region EU-ASEAN Free Trade Agreement. In this regard, Vietnam is leading the way in the region. Our strengthened partnership will allow us to better address future challenges on the road towards prosperous, democratic and just societies.

I am therefore very happy to visit Vietnam for three days in October, leading the largest delegation of Swedish companies that has ever visited your country, to learn more about Vietnam, discuss innovation and sustainability and explore how Sweden and Vietnam can work together for more open and free trade, for the benefit of both our countries.

Sweden firmly believes that we must push for more open and free trade through a progressive free trade agenda that not only aligns with, but also supports the implementation of the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals. For us it is a given that in trade policy we must stand up for human rights, our environment, people's health and our democratic space. Based on this approach, more free trade means more prosperity for all.

Ann Linde, Minister of EU Affairs and Trade