The much-awaited free trade agreement between the European Union and Vietnam could be signed as early as next month, said José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, during a recent visit to Vietnam. In the past year, Vietnam's total footwear exports rose by 15 percent to nearly $8 billion. On the European side, the negotiations are being taken over by a new EU trade commissioner, Cecilia Malström, who is taking the place of Karel de Gucht.