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EU deadlocked on CETA despite marathon talks

EU leaders have ended a Brussels summit without agreeing on a free trade deal with Ottawa as Belgium's region of Wallonia refused a last minute offer. Canada's trade minister said the deal was "impossible" at the moment.

Tensions were high in Brussels on Friday, after the government of Wallonia refused to budge on CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) despite massive pressure from Canada, the Belgian government, and the overwhelming majority of EU officials.

Ottawa's representative Chrystia Freeland blasted the EU as incapable of resolving the impasse, saying her country was "disappointed."

"It seems evident for me and for Canada that the European Union is not now capable of having an international accord even with a country that has values as European as Canada, even with such a kind, patient, country," the trade minister said in the Belgian city of Namur.

"We have decided to return home. I am really very, very sad."

Soon after her statement, a source within the EU Commission told Reuters that the negotiation was not yet finished, even though the talks were on hold.

Earlier on Friday, Freeland spent hours negotiating with Wallonia's President Paul Magnette in Namur, the capital of the Belgian region. The push, however, was not enough to get Magnette to flip his position on the massive trade deal.

"I feel there is a will to advance but there remain difficulties... these [advances] upon analysis seem insufficient," Magnette told his lawmakers.

Paul Magnet Belgien Wallonie (picture-alliance/dpa/J.Warnand )

Wallonia's President Paul Magnette in Namur

Fears of TTIP

The parliament of the 3.5 million-strong region voted against the so-called CETA last week , blocking the deal near the very end of the seven-year negotiation procedure which aimed to cancel 98 percent of trade tariffs between EU and Canada. The Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was to travel to Europe and sign the deal on the 27th of October.

Romania and Bulgaria were also opposed to the deal, but decided to get on board in exchange for visa-free travel to Canada from 2017.

Wallonia, however, still  holds out against it, with its lawmakers concerned about CETA lowering Europe's health standards, hurting small farmers, and giving big business power to force governments to change laws.

Also, CETA is seen as a probe for a much larger deal with the US, with citizens across Europe voicing similar complaints.

Juncker hopes deal is coming

The Belgian government and the EU Commission are firmly in favor of CETA. The Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker has described the deal as "the best one we have ever concluded."

"I hope we can see an agreed settlement in a few days," Juncker told a press conference after the summit ended on Friday. "If I am saying that I hope an agreement will be found in the next couple of days, this does include today."

The CETA impasse also laid bare the problem with reaching consensus inside the EU, with Belgium needing a green light from all five of its regional governments and the European bloc needing all 28 members to accept the trade deal with Canada. A failure to negotiate the accord could harm EU credibility to conclude any similar pact in the future, EU officials said.

CETA also faced a challenge in Germany's Constitutional Court, but was deemed to be in line with German law just over a week ago. 

 

dj/msh (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

 

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