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EU trade deal with Canada to be signed Sunday

Lawmakers in Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia have voted in favor of a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. EU member states officially endorsed the deal shortly afterwards.

Ending a two-week long standoff, lawmakers in Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia on Friday voted in favor of a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. The vote was followed on Friday evening by an official endorsement from all 28 EU member states.

European Council President Donald Tusk celebrated the success on Twitter, saying he had agreed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to hold a summit to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on Sunday.

"[CETA] represents a milestone in the EU's trade policy and our commitment to it," said Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the EU's rotating presidency, in a statement late on Friday. Fico called the agreement a "modern and progressive deal, opening the door to new opportunities, while protecting important interests. Moreover, it has the potential to set the way forward for future trade deals." 

Wallonia opposition

Until the last minute, Wallonia's regional government had threatened to scupper the entire deal. The parliament in Namur passed CETA by a margin of 58 in favor and five against. The region's socialist head, Paul Magnette, said he was satisfied with the amendments made to the deal after Wallonia registered its opposition last week.

Paul Magnette (picture-alliance/dpa/J.Warnand )

"Everybody in Europe now knows the Walloon parliament exists": Magnette

"The amended and corrected CETA is more than just the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend," Magnette said.

The amended version of the deal addressed some Belgians' fears that a framework to protect foreign investors could strengthen multinationals to the disadvantage of the local population. The agreement also provided a safeguard clause for farmers.

"With this saga, which I must say made some noise, everybody in Europe knows the Walloon parliament exists," he added.

Deal could be implemented in 2017

However, not everyone in Wallonia was happy with the new arrangement.

"It is clear that the text of the CETA stays the same: the DNA of CETA is one of deregulation and it puts nations in competition at an unprecedented level," Frederic Gillot of the far-left PTB-GO party told reporters.

The EU-Canada trade pact is backed by all 28 member states and is expected to increase business between the two areas by 20 percent. However, Belgium's government needed approval from its regional parliaments, of which Wallonia registered the strongest protest.

The opposition to CETA is part of a growing sentiment against global free trade deals, including the Transatlantic Trade and Industrial Pact (TTIP) with the United States, which is currently being negotiated. It has triggered massive protests across Europe, including in Germany.

Protesters say the deals would strengthen multinational companies, weaken local producers and degrade food, environment and labor standards.

Once signed, CETA could partially enter into force next year.

mg, jm/cmk (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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