The parliament in Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region has blocked an EU-Canada trade deal. The move may have serious implications not only for CETA but for the success of EU-US trade talks as well.
Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia voted to reject a wide-ranging trade deal between the European Union and Canada on Friday. The move threatens to kill the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, known as CETA, which is due to be signed in two weeks.
"I will not give powers to the federal government, and Belgium will not sign CETA on October 18," Paul Magnette, the socialist head of the government in Wallonia, said during an emergency session of the regional parliament.
Belgium's federal government is in favor of CETA, but requires the backing of the linguistically divided nation's seven parliaments to formally approve the deal.
Wallonia, which accounts for 55 percent of the territory of Belgium, and a third of its population, has voiced concerns that CETA would leave the agricultural and industrial sectors too exposed to cheaper Canadian imports.
Trade unions and environmental activists have warned that large international trade deals could lower EU standards for food, work and industry.
On Friday, Magnette said "the guarantees are insufficient" and demanded further negotiations.
Trade pacts in trouble
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said on Wednesday he was running out of patience with the EU after two years of delays. He warned that killing the deal would send "a very clear message ... that Europe is not productive."
On Thursday, Germany's Constitutional Court gave the go-ahead for the government to approve CETA, despite arguments from opponents saying the deal undermines democratic rights.
Many view the CETA negotiations as an indicator for the success or failure of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) agreement between the EU and the United States. TTIP faces even stronger opposition than CETA on both sides of the Atlantic, with EU leaders saying the deal will not be signed by the time US President Barack Obama leaves office.
CETA seeks to eliminate tariffs on 98 percent of goods immediately. It would also encompass regulatory cooperation, shipping, sustainable development and access to government tenders.
The agreement is scheduled to be formally signed at a summit of EU leaders and Canada's Trudeau in Brussels on October 27. The summit would then launch the ratification process with all of the EU's national parliaments. Canada's parliament would also have to agree to the accord.
rs/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)