A trade agreement between Canada and the EU should be signed next week, according to European Parliament President Martin Schulz. However, the Belgian region of Wallonia remains a stumbling block.
European Parliament President Martin Schulz on Saturday said he was hopeful the European Union and Canada would be able to officially sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which hinges on approval from Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia.
Schulz, a German Social Democrat, spoke after separate meetings in Brussels with Canada's Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland and Wallonia leader Paul Magnette.
"I am very optimistic that we can solve the problems that we have within the European Union," Schulz said in a statement. "None of the stumbling blocks on the way of CETA's adoption by Belgium are insurmountable."
Despite Schulz's optimism, doubts remain about whether the agreement will ever be signed. Freeland walked out of negotiations on Friday appearing close to tears and saying it was "impossible" to continue.
Freeland insisted on Saturday that responsibility for saving the deal was in Europe's hands. "Now the ball is in Europe's court and it's time for Europe to finish doing its job," she said.
Forerunner of bigger deal
The accord was initially scheduled to be signed next Thursday at a ceremony with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Schulz insisted that the date remained firmly penned in the diary.
CETA is intended to make it easier to transport and sell goods by removing tariffs between the European bloc and Canada. The deal is seen as a blue print for a much bigger deal - TTIP - between the EU and United States.
All of Belgium's regions need to agree for the country to give CETA the go-ahead. As a result, the EU as a whole is unable to progress further while Wallonia has objections.
"We still have a few small difficulties among Europeans so we still need to work and discuss in the near future," Walloon leader Magnette was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency.
Threat to public standards?
Opponents say CETA and TTIP give an undue amount of power to corporations and weaken the abilities of governments to regulate laws, as well as consumer and environmental standards.
Wallonia, in particular, has cited concerns about the threat of meat imports from Canada, as well as the use of an independent court system to settle disputes between states and foreign investors. There are fears that the arrangement might be abused by multinationals seeking to dictate public policy.
However, some EU leaders have said they suspect the devolved Walloon government is using the CETA deal as leverage for domestic policy purposes.
rc/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)