Belgian political leaders have reached a consensus in support of the landmark EU-Canada trade deal, Prime Minister Charles Michel said, raising hopes it can be signed soon.
“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 today (27 October) for a signing ceremony as European sources said the summit had been cancelled.
Belgium’s political leaders are set for a new round of talks to try and resolve differences that have blocked a landmark EU-Canada free trade deal.
There was no immediate announcement of a new date for signing the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
In the last few days, a range of intensive talks involving Belgian leaders as well as EU officials have been held in a bid to break the deadlock.
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.
As the CETA debate continues, Jacques de Gerlache and Cédric du Monceau ask whether blocking the current deal is Europe’s last chance to avoid a fatal flight forward.
Liberal MEP Marietje Schaake said CETA is a good deal but process to get here was very tough and damaging for the EU.
“That must not happen again. First of all, it is crucial that trade ministers take more responsibility for their policies and involve people in better trade agreements. Otherwise the unclarity about what kind of mandate European negotiators have will remain and that will undermine the EU's negotiating position even further, which would be very problematic."
"CETA is good for our economy, but even more important now that Canada is closing a deal with Asian countries. Without CETA, European companies will be less competitive vis-a-vis Japanese or Australian companies operating in China."
CETA also contains clauses to uphold standards and promote sustainable development, Schaake added.
Manfred Weber, Chairman of the EPP Group in the European Parliament said we now expect the agreement to be signed and ratified without delay.
“CETA will contribute greatly to boosting growth and employment in the European Union," stated, following the announcement of a deal on CETA between the Belgian authorities today.
"It is also clear, however, that EU Member States cannot experience another similar impasse. Such instances makes Europe lose credibility and its ability to uniformly act," Manfred Weber warned.
Responding to the news that the Belgian government has finally reached an agreement on the CETA EU-Canada trade deal, European Conservatives and Reformists leader Syed Kamall MEP said: "We all need to learn the lessons from this debacle, not least that it is incumbent on all supporters of open trade to go out and make a positive case for the benefits of it."
ECR Group trade spokesman Emma McClarkin MEP said:"The credibility of the EU on global trade deals is in tatters following this debacle. CETA is one of the highest quality agreements ever negotiated, with a country that has values and standards very similar to our own. Other countries will now ask whether it is worth the time and effort conducting such deals with the EU. We need to show them that the EU can be a reliable trade partner."