TRADE TALKS

The time for talking is over: Belgium reaches agreement over landmark EU-Canada free trade deal

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 7:12pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 October, 2016, 8:42pm

Belgian political leaders have reached a consensus in support of the landmark EU-Canada trade deal, Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Thursday, raising hopes it can be signed soon.

We have finally found an agreement among the Belgians that will now be submitted to European institutions and our European partners
Paul Magnette, Wallonia chief

“An agreement” has been found, Michel said after the latest round of marathon negotiations aimed at winning over holdouts in Belgium’s French-speaking communities who have held up the deal for the entire European Union. Confirmation came swiftly from Paul Magnette, the chief of government of the southern French-speaking Wallonia and the leading holdout to 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,” he added.

Angering Canada and European Union leaders who had conducted negotiations for seven years, Belgium had effectively blocked the deal, which must be endorsed by all 28 EU member states.

The intra-Belgian agreement was not reached in time for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come to Brussels later on Thursday for a signing ceremony as European sources said the summit had been cancelled.

There was no immediate announcement of a new date for signing the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). The CETA pact would link the EU’s single market of 500 million people – the world’s biggest – with Canada’s 10th largest global economy in what would be the most ambitious tie-up of its kind so far.

Leaders of Wallonia, a 3.5 million-strong region south of Brussels, had demanded guarantees that CETA will not harm local farming and other interests. Magnette had especially opposed terms of the deal intended to protect international investors which critics say could allow them to force governments to change laws against the wishes of the people.