Friday 23 March 2018

Last-minute effort to secure EU-Canada pact

Walloon leader Paul Magnette Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
Walloon leader Paul Magnette Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

David Hughes

Frantic diplomatic efforts to save the proposed EU-Canada trade pact continued with the president of the European Parliament attempting to prevent the collapse of the deal.

Canada's international trade minister walked out of talks aimed at keeping the deal alive last Friday, labelling the situation "impossible" and casting doubt on the bloc's ability to operate effectively after the proposals were blocked by a regional administration in Belgium.

The parliament in Wallonia is holding up the deal, but the region's leader suggested the standoff could be resolved within days.

"I think it's worth taking a little more time," Walloon leader Paul Magnette said after crisis talks with European Parliament president Martin Schulz aimed at breaking the deadlock over the deal, which has taken years to thrash out with Ottawa.

Mr Schulz told reporters: "To my eyes, there is no problem we cannot resolve."

Supporters of Brexit have long highlighted the glacial pace of EU trade negotiations as a reason to leave, claiming that bilateral deals between the UK and other countries would be far simpler to sign.

But those in favour of retaining close trade links with Europe warned that the problems being experienced by Canada could be an omen for the tortuous negotiations the UK will face in thrashing out a post-Brexit agreement with Brussels.

The Walloons have concerns that the Ceta deal would undermine labour, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local firms.

Mr Magnette said there were still "some small difficulties" over the pact that would create the world's biggest trading bloc and had been thought to be a done deal, expected to be signed at an EU-Canada summit planned for Thursday.

Canada's international trade minister Chrystia Freeland walked away from the talks on Friday on the verge of tears, saying: "I think it's impossible."

The pact needs unanimous support within the EU, and Belgium in turn needs unanimity among its regions.

"It seems that for me, and for Canada, that the EU is not capable now to have an international deal, even with a nation with such European values like Canada," Ms Freeland said.

In Britain, Prime Minister Theresa May backed the proposed Ceta deal but insisted that the UK was not seeking an agreement along the same lines after Brexit.

Press Association

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