The EU and Canada will sign a landmark free trade deal on Sunday (30 October) after a series of key votes in Belgian regional assemblies on Friday (28 October) and the backing of ended opposition that had threatened to destroy the entire agreement.
Soon after the final Belgian vote, European Council president Donald Tusk called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and invited him to Brussels for the signing ceremony, which is scheduled for midday.
“Mission accomplished!” Tusk tweeted, announcing that the deal would be signed over the weekend.
Mission accomplished! Just agreed with PM @JustinTrudeau to hold EU-Canada Summit this Sunday
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 28, 2016
“The Canada-EU Summit will be Sunday. Great news and I’m looking forward to being there,” Trudeau said on Twitter.
— Justin Trudeau (@JustinTrudeau) October 28, 2016
All 28 EU governments back CETA, but Belgium’s central government had been prevented from giving consent because it needed approval from sub-federal authorities.
After Belgian politicians agreed to an addendum on Thursday (27 October) to allay Wallonia’s concerns, the regional parliament voted on Friday to back the deal. The parliaments of Brussels and the Dutch-speaking community approved the deal a few hours later.
On Friday evening, the EU’s 28 member states have given the green light, clearing the way for the deal to be signed.
“I am delighted to confirm that the EU is ready to sign the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada,” Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, which currently holds the EU presidency, said of the deal known as CETA.
“It represents a milestone in the EU’s trade policy and our commitment to it,” he added.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which backers say will boost bilateral trade by 20%, appeared to be in trouble after Belgium’s French-speaking Wallonia region raised a series of late objections.
Wallonia’s Socialist Premier, Paul Magnette, who had become a hero to protesters across Europe, said the Belgian negotiations produced a deal he could live with.
“The amended and corrected CETA is more just than the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend,” Magnette said.
Nous avons gagné un pouvoir extraordinaire & nous avons saisi cette chance
— Paul Magnette (@PaulMagnette) October 28, 2016
The addendum addresses fears that a system to protect foreign investors could strengthen multinationals. It also provides a safeguard clause for farmers.
“With this saga, which I must say made some noise, everybody in Europe knows the Walloon parliament exists,” Magnette said.
The agreement could partially enter force next year, some eight years after talks began, as long as the European Parliament also backs it. It would bring in tariff reductions before national and regional parliaments complete ratification.
The opposition to CETA is part of a growing backlash in the West against globalisation, with the fiercest protests against a proposed EU-U.S. deal best known by its initials, TTIP.
Protesters say TTIP and CETA would strengthen multinationals and degrade food, environmental and labour standards.
Magnette said on Friday that “TTIP is dead and buried.”
The Belgian dispute over CETA reflects a split in the country between a richer, Dutch-speaking north and a largely French-speaking south that has struggled to cope with the decline of its coal and steel industries.