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Belgien EU Gipfel Charles Michel
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/O. Matthys

Belgium unable to sign EU-Canada trade deal

October 24, 2016

Belgium's Prime Minister has said his country is unable to sign off on an EU-Canada free trade deal after Wallonia and other regions vetoed it. The deal is now not likely to be signed as planned on Thursday.


The European Union's hopes of signing a free trade deal with Canada later this week faded away on Monday when the Belgian government failed to get the necessary backing for the free trade deal with Canada.

"We are not in a position to sign CETA," Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said after talks with Belgium's regional leaders in Brussels.

The talks broke up without an agreement after Wallonia, the Brussels city government and the French community rejected the deal.

The head of Wallonia's parliament said earlier on Monday the region would not yield to an ultimatum set by the EU for it to decide on a pact known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA). Andre Antoine, Walloon parliamentary president and a member of Belgium's center-left Socialist party, said his region is not giving way.

"There's a huge mish-mash of texts. This is not serious international law," Antoine said. "Secondly, ultimatums and threats are not part of democracy. We want a deal, we want a treaty, but we want to negotiate it with a minimum of courtesy and respect."

The deal requires unanimity among the 28 EU nations and Belgium is the only one lacking approval since it needs the support of all its regions.

CETA would link the EU market of 500 million people with the world's tenth biggest economy. The region of roughly 3.5 million people has so far been the only one of five sub-national regions within the EU's 28-nations to refuse to endorse the sweeping pact that supporters say would increase wealth between Europe and Canada.

Critics of neo-liberalism applaud Wallonian defiance

But critics on both sides of the Atlantic say its system of transnational dispute panels would empower multinational corporations to flout "anti-competitive" national regulations and laws that protect public health, labor rights and the environment.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is slated to sign the agreement at a Thursday summit in Brussels. European Parliament President Martin Schulz has said he is "very optimistic" that the deal can be salvaged.

At least 8,000 anti-CETA protesters that included young people, farmers, union leaders, and entrepreneurs joined a Saturday rally in Amsterdam in a show of solidarity. Many Walloons - who have a robust agricultural economy - have concerns about the threat of surging pork and beef imports from Canada.

If CETA fails, the EU's hopes of completing similar deals with the United States or Japan could be in jeopardy.

rs, jar/kl (Reuters, AP)

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