Wednesday 18 October 2017

Wallonia blocks EU/Canada trade deal as crunch talks fail

Minister-President of Wallonia Paul Magnette
Minister-President of Wallonia Paul Magnette

Philip Blenkinsop

The European Union's hopes of signing a landmark free trade deal with Canada this week appeared to evaporate yesterday as the Belgian federal government failed to win the consent of French-speaking regional authorities.

European Council President Donald Tusk had given Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel until yesterday to resolve the impasse. But a meeting Michel hosted with leaders of the five sub-federal authorities whose permission he needs to go ahead ended in stalemate.

Mr Tusk is now expected to contact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and call off an EU-Canada summit that was scheduled for Thursday in Brussels, although all sides insist that the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) pact, seven years in the making, remains in everyone's interest.

If CETA fails, the EU's hopes of completing similar deals with the United States or Japan would be in tatters, undermining a bloc already battered by Britain's vote to leave it and disputes over Europe's migration crisis.

"We cannot give a yes," Paul Magnette, premier of the Wallonia region, said. The main problems remained not with Ottawa but with the EU authorities, he added.

Other Socialist-led regions, including Brussels, back the Walloons. Dutch and German-speakers back Michel's liberal-led federal coalition. Michel said it was too early to declare CETA dead but admitted Belgium is not in a position to consent to a deal that all 27 other EU member states are ready to support. Supporters say CETA will increase trade between the partners by 20pc and boost the EU economy by €12bn a year. Opponents fear a surge in pork and beef imports, and distrust a CETA clause on settling disputes between states and foreign investors that critics say allows multinationals to dictate public policy. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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