The EU-Canada CETA free trade deal will not falter despite questions raised in Belgium and Romania, according to Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel. The CETA deal is due to be signed next week.
Germany's Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters in Luxembourg before Tuesday's emergency meeting of EU trade ministers that he still believed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would be signed.
CETA is a proposed free-trade agreement to eliminate 98 percent of the tariffs between Canada and the EU. Those opposing it claim it would weaken European consumer rights, including food safety regulations, and that tariffs are already low.
EU ministers responsible for trade were due to have approved CETA on Tuesday. This would have paved the way for CETA to be signed at an EU-Canada summit attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on October 27.
"I don't think the agreement can fail," Gabriel said ahead of Tuesday's meeting in Luxembourg. "But Belgium and Romania, for example, still have questions that perhaps can be answered today."
"Perhaps we need a bit more time," Gabriel remarked.
Belgium has a centre-right coalition firmly in favour of CETA, but on Friday, the regional parliament of Wallonia approved a motion calling on the regional executive not to grant the federal government the go-ahead to the deal.
The Belgian coalition can not sign up to CETA without backing from all five sub-federal governments representing its regions and its linguistic communities.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said before the trade meeting "I hope that by the time of the summit at the end of the week we'll be in a position to allow things to go ahead."
Environmental organization Greenpeace also added its voice against the deal, and displayed a banner at the conference center in Luxembourg:
EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said EU ministers were unlikely to give the go-ahead for the deal on Tuesday, as Wallonia was opposing it.
"We've been working with them (Wallonia) intensively over the last days, trying to understand their concerns, trying to see whether we could accommodate them. We're not really there yet," Malmstrom said ahead of the talks in Luxembourg. "Hopefully we will move forward and we can make a decision very soon," she added.
Also opposing the deal, Romania was still demanding Canada allow visa-free travel for its citizens.
CETA supporters say it will increase bilateral trade by 20 percent and boost the EU economy by 12 billion euros ($13.4 billion) per year.
ipj/jm (AFP epd, Reuters)