Belgians have reached a consensus over a contested EU-Canada free trade deal, announced Belgium's Prime Minister. Thursday's planned summit to sign the deal with Canada, however, had already been canceled.
Belgium resolved an internal deadlock over the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada on Thursday, Prime Minister Charles Michel told reporters in Brussels.
"An agreement" has been found, Michel said after the latest round of negotiations to win over holdouts in Belgium's French-speaking communities who used a veto to hold up the deal.
Belgian parliaments now have until midnight (2200 UTC) on Friday to give their go-ahead for their country to approve the deal, Michel tweeted. The Belgian compromise has been sent to EU ambassadors, reported the Belga news agency.
Canada's Foreign Minister Stephane Dion welcomed the breakthrough. "If it materialises, it's excellent news," he said during a visit to Paris.
"I am cautiously optimistic," he added. "We will show it is possible to trade and have progressive policies for the environment, health and social policies."
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council and host of the planned EU-Canada summit, praised the Belgian agreement, saying he would contact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau "once all procedures are finalized for EU signing CETA."
Despite Thursday's internal Belgian breakthrough, the agreement was not reached in time for Trudeau to come to Brussels to sign it as the EU canceled the summit on Wednesday.
Confirmation of the agreement came swiftly from Paul Magnette, the president of the southern, French-speaking Wallonia region that was the main holdout on the deal.
"We have finally found an agreement among the Belgians that will now be submitted to European institutions and our European partners," Magnette said. "Wallonia is extremely happy that our demands were heard."
"I am sorry for all the other Europeans we made wait and for our Canadian partners. But if we took a bit of time, what we achieved
here is important, not only for Wallonia but for all Europeans," he added.
Lawmakers in French-speaking Wallonia said they were concerned the agreement could hurt local farming. They also sought assurances to address concerns that CETA would weaken labor and environmental standards.
Any deal reached in Belgium must still be approved by the 27 other EU member states before CETA itself can be signed.
The landmark agreement would link the EU economy with Canada's - two of the largest economies in the world. Proponents of CETA say it would boost economic growth and job creation in Canada and Europe.
Critics argue that its terms unfairly favor international investors and that large companies could have outside influence over the governments of Canada and Europe.
rs,nm/kl (AP, AFP, dpa, Reuters)