Tuesday 12 December 2017

Canadian minister walks out of trade talks with 'incapable' EU

Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland
Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland

Philip Blenkinson in Brussels

Canada's trade minister walked out of talks in Belgium yesterday, declaring that the European Union was incapable of sealing a planned transatlantic free trade deal designed to boost growth in both economies.

All 28 EU governments support the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), but Belgium cannot give assent without backing from its five sub-federal administrations, and French-speaking Wallonia has steadfastly opposed it.

The agreement, the EU's first with a G7 country, would according to supporters increase trade by 20pc, boosting the EU economy by €12bn per year and Canada's by €8.2bn.

Wallonia is home to about 3.5 million people, less than 1pc of the 507 million Europeans CETA would affect, but the EU's flagship trade project rests on the will of its government.

It continued to have concerns about the threat of surging pork and beef imports from Canada and an independent court system to settle disputes between states and foreign investors, which critics say may be used by multinationals to dictate public policy.

Many EU leaders also suspect the local government in Namur of using its devolved powers to play domestic politics.

A visibly shaken Chrystia Freeland, Canada's trade minister, emerged after a full day of talks with chief Canadian and EU trade negotiators and Walloon premier Paul Magnette. "Canada has worked, and I personally have worked, very hard. But it is now evident to me, evident to Canada, that the European Union is incapable of reaching an agreement - even with a country with European values such as Canada," she said.

"Canada is disappointed and I personally am disappointed, but I think it's impossible," she said, adding she was heading home. EU trade commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom said in a tweet she was sad talks had halted, but still hoped to find a solution. "Good progress had been made in most areas of concerns for Wallonia in talks on CETA. I sincerely believe this is not the end of the process," her post read. CETA was set to be signed at a summit next Thursday.

Failure to strike a deal with such a like-minded country as Canada would call into question the EU's ability to forge other deals and undermine a bloc already battered by Britain's vote to leave and disputes over Europe's migration crisis. (Reuters)

Irish Independent

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