Belgian region of Wallonia blocks EU-Canada trade deal

Paul Magnette, the head of the government of Wallonia. [UNCTAD/Flickr]

Lawmakers in the small Belgian region of Wallonia today (14 October) voted to block an EU-Canada trade deal in a move set to have serious implications for future trade talks with the US and a non-EU UK.

The parliamentary vote by the French-speaking part of southern Belgium threatens to derail the long-delayed signing by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of the pact, known as CETA, in Brussels later this month.

“I will not give powers to the federal government, and Belgium will not sign CETA on 18 October,” Paul Magnette, the socialist head of the Wallonia government, told an emergency session of the regional parliament.

In a largely expected outcome, 46 MPs in the economically depressed area voted against the trade deal and 16 voted for it, with one abstention.

Linguistically-divided Belgium’s seven different parliaments must first give the federal government power of signature for Belgium to give its official approval, under the country’s complex political system.

In order to be signed by Trudeau at the EU-Canada summit on October 27, the deal must first be backed by all 28 EU member states at a ministers’ meeting on Tuesday (18 October).

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Trudeau yesterday said he was running out of patience after two years of delays and warned that killing the deal would send “a very clear message… that Europe is not productive”.

Poorer, industrial Wallonia has grown increasingly protectionist in stark contrast to richer, Dutch-speaking Flanders, which eagerly embraces globalisation.

“I am worried about the future of Europe, why add another crisis?” said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who still hopes to approve the deal at Tuesday’s talks with EU ministers.

Belgium’s complex political system includes a federal parliament, parliaments for the three regions of Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels-capital, and legislatures for Belgium’s Flemish, French and German-speaking communities.

Magnette goes to Paris later in the day for talks with French President François Hollande, the EU’s most powerful socialist leader but who backs the deal.

Belgium’s federal parliament and Flanders in the north of the country have already indicated that they will back the accord.

Activists charge that the Canada deal will set a dangerous precedent and open the way for a similar but far more ambitious agreement with the United States, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

TTIP has already run into trouble, with the EU saying it will not be agreed before President Barack Obama leaves office as planned.

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The problems getting the Canada deal through Belgium’s political maze is also a practice run for the even more controversial negotiations over Britain’s exit from the EU.

Whatever deal is reached for Brexit after two years of negotiations, due to start in March, must also be passed by all EU parliaments including Belgium’s seven legislatures.

Commenting on the Wallonia Parliament’s vote opposing the signature of CETA, the director of Greenpeace Belgium Vincent De Brouwer, said, “Greenpeace welcomes the decision of the Walloon Parliament to maintain its opposition to CETA. This parliament truly defends its citizens, not the interests of lobbyists and corporations. This is a fundamental message sent to the European institutions.

"Europeans cannot accept a trade and investment deal that threatens our health and environmental standards. While the Paris agreement is about to be implemented, treaties such as CETA and TTIP sneak dangerously in the opposite direction. Today, the environment and the protection of our planet must be at the heart of each international treaty, not just big business’ profits. It is now up to the European institutions to listen to this signal and bury these dangerous treaties."

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