Belgian regions greenlight EU-Canada trade deal
Belgian regional parliaments on Friday approved a landmark Europe-Canada free trade deal, clearing the way for the EU to sign the pact after two weeks of fraught talks that threatened the bloc's credibility.
By 58 votes to five, Wallonia’s parliament became the first of Belgium’s three mainly French-speaking communities to back changes made to allay fears that local interests could be harmed by one of the biggest ever trade deals.
Its approval, after nearly four hours of debate, was followed by a green light from the Brussels-Capital parliament and that of the Federation Wallonia-Brussels.
This in turn will allow the Belgian federal government to give the European Union its blessing to go ahead with the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
CETA requires all 28 EU member states to endorse it before it can be signed and then ratified by their parliaments and in some cases — as in Belgium — by their regional governments.
Wallonia leader Paul Magnette told the parliament in the city of Namur, south of Brussels, that the changes agreed offered more guarantees that local interests would be properly protected.
“CETA amended, CETA corrected — that is fairer than the former CETA and offers more guarantees,” Magnette said.
All three Belgian regional authorities made good on pledges to give their answers before midnight (2200 GMT) Friday.
CETA will 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.
The EU had been due to sign CETA at a summit Thursday in Brussels with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that had to be embarrassingly called off as his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel was still trying to win the holdout regions’ backing.
CETA took seven years to negotiate to 2014 and another two years to go through the EU’s institutions before it ran into the Belgian roadblock.
Once signed, the pact will go into effect on a provisional basis, pending full member state ratification.
– ‘TTIP is dead’ –
The stakes have been high as Belgium had become a lighting rod for warnings that the EU’s international standing, already battered by Britain’s shock June Brexit vote, would suffer further if the huge, long-planned deal with Canada got scuppered.
Hinging on CETA’s outcome are complex EU trade negotiations with other countries, including an even bigger and more controversial deal with the United States known as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).
In the CETA talks, Magnette had fought for Wallonia’s farming interests and for guarantees against international investors forcing governments to change laws against the wishes of the people.
In his speech to parliament, Magnette warned that Wallonia would never accept a trade treaty that does not have the same guarantees as those in the new CETA.
“From now on, we can draw the lesson: with CETA improved, TTIP is dead and buried,” he said.
With the remaining political hurdles hopefully cleared, Tusk may be free to phone Trudeau on Saturday to discuss the next steps, including possibly a signing ceremony, an EU source told AFP.