EU-Canada trade deal: Belgians break Ceta deadlock

Brussels—Belgian political leaders have reached a consensus in support of the Ceta trade deal between the EU and Canada, Prime Minister Charles Michel has said.
He said an agreement had been found at the latest round of negotiations with Belgium’s French-speaking communities who had been holding up the deal.
A signing ceremony on Thursday was cancelled after the region of Wallonia vetoed the agreement. A Belgian deal would still have to be approved by the other 27 EU members. Under Belgium’s federal system, the national government cannot sign the deal unless all six regional parliaments approve it.
French-speaking Wallonia, a staunchly socialist region of 3.6 million people, had been leading objections to the deal, demanding stronger safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards.
But after the latest round of marathon talks, Mr Michel tweeted: “All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada.”
He said the heads of the regions had drawn up an addendum to the agreement that answered regional concerns over the rights of farmers and governments. The addendum still needs the approval of Canada and other EU states. Canada’s Foreign Minister Stephane Dion welcomed the announcement.
“If it materialises, it’s excellent news,” he said during a visit to Paris, adding he was “cautiously optimistic”. The deal was welcomed by the head of the Walloon government, Paul Magnette.
“Wallonia is extremely happy that our demands were heard,” he said. “If we took a bit of time, what we achieved here is important, not only for Wallonia but for all Europeans,” he added.
It took seven years to negotiate Ceta, the EU’s most ambitious trade deal yet. A major stumbling block had been the plan to create new commercial courts to handle disputes between companies and national governments.
Wallonia had feared they would give too much leverage to multinationals. It also wanted more protection for Walloon farmers, who would face new competition from Canadian imports. The Ceta wrangling has raised new concerns about future UK negotiations with the EU on a Brexit trade deal.—Agencies

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