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Vietnam's EU trade deal fails to inspire COVID-hit neighbors

Indonesia, Malaysia and Philippines hesitate despite need to revive economies

Vietnamese customs officers patrol a port in the province of Quang Ninh in August. Vietnam's government last year estimated free trade with the EU would almost double exports to the bloc by 2025.   © Reuters

PRAGUE/JAKARTA -- Southeast Asian countries facing the daunting challenge of kick-starting economic recoveries from COVID-19 are showing little interest in a step that could help -- fast-tracking free trade talks with the European Union.

Four regional states that had already started negotiations with the EU before the pandemic began have made hardly any discernible progress this year. They appear unmoved by expectations that Vietnam, which has already ratified such a pact, will recover the fastest in the region thanks in no small part to the promise of tariff-free exports into European markets over the next few years.

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