EU chiefs believe that ailing talks to save an EU-Canada trade deal can be resurrected. With a Thursday deadline approaching, the Belgian region of Wallonia is the last holdout.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) - which took seven years to negotiate - is set to be signed by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and EU officials in Brussels on Thursday.
But to go through, it requires all 28 EU member states to be on board. The problem: Belgium has not given its approval, with the country's federal government so far failing to convince the country's French-speaking Wallonia region to lend its support to the deal. Prime Minister Charles Michel has hosted talks this week with regional authorities, including officials from Wallonia and Brussels that have rejected the accord.
Supporters of CETA - and a larger trade deal being pursued with the US - argue that they would boost growth and create jobs. Its critics believe it will open the door to international corporate interests and undermine regional industry and agriculture.
"As we speak, the summit tomorrow is still possible," European Council President Donald Tusk told EU MPs in the French city of Strasbourg. "I still hope that Belgium will prove that it is a consensus-building champion and that we will be able to finalise this agreement soon," Tusk told a session of the European Parliament.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he was "hopeful" of reaching an agreement on Wednesday.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who is also responsible for trade issues, held a new round of talks with representatives of the country's regional governments early on Wednesday. "No more" than one or two points remained open, he said ahead of the meeting, the Belga news agency reported. Among other things, new proposals relating to agriculture were on the table, the agency wrote.
jbh/kl (AP, AFCP, Reuters)