A Brussels summit to seal a EU-Canada trade deal has been thrown into doubt after a Belgian region refused to give its support. EU Parliament President Martin Schulz says the signing will almost certainly be postponed.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German radio on Tuesday that he did not expect the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) to be signed this week. "I don't think that we'll get a solution this week," Schulz told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio station. "That would seem to be very, very difficult to me."
The parliamentary leader's reversal from his previous unflappable optimism followed Belgian Premier Charles Michel's admission that his government could not endorse the CETA after talks failed to win over the leaders of Wallonia and other French-speaking regions skeptical about the far-sweeping trade pact. "We are not in a position to sign CETA," he said.
Ratification requires that all 28 EU member states, including Belgium, must endorse the pact that would link the EU's single market of 500 million people - the world's largest - with the 10th largest global economy.
Wallonia leader Paul Magnette said as he left talks on Monday that he could not endorse the accord under what he called the pressure of an ultimatum. "It is evident that in the current circumstances, we cannot give a 'yes' today," he said late Monday.
The Francophone region of 3.5 million people has the support around Europe and from Greenpeace, which charges that the deal will reward "corporate greed" at the expense of hard-won EU health and environmental standards. Indeed, critics criticize terms of the deal they say would put the interests of international investors over national populations as corporations could appeal to a special trade tribunal to overturn national legislation they consider anti-competitive. That could include laws protecting labor and the environment, as well as health and safety.
Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has said she remains hopeful - yet didn't mask her annoyance at the deadlock. "CETA is not dead," she said. "Canada is ready to sign CETA, but the ball is in Europe's court and it's time for Europe to do its job."
CETA is 'de facto dead'
Businesses back CETA as a guarantee of much-needed jobs and growth in the EU, as well as a testament to the bloc's trustworthiness as an actor on the international stage. Bernd Lange, chairman of the International Trade Committee of the European Parliament and CETA supporter, doubted the deal had much hope in the near future. "CETA is de facto dead. Possibly there will be another try to sign it in a few weeks but I am not persuaded that this will succeed," he said.
Failure to find accord on CETA mirrors efforts to push through the similar Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) deal between the EU and the United States as well as a similar pact between the US and Pacific Rim countries.
jar/kl (Reuters, AFP)