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Canada says EU’s ‘job’ to save trade pact

Published on 22/10/2016

Canada turned up the heat on the European Union Saturday, saying it was the bloc's "job" to save a trade pact put in doubt by a Belgian region's refusal to sign on.

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian trade minister, was firm after leaving last-ditch talks with European parliament head Martin Schulz to salvage the proposed accord that was seven years in the making.

“Now the ball is in Europe’s court and it’s time for Europe to finish doing its job,” Freeland said, adding that she was returning to Toronto on Saturday.

“I very much hope that I will be able to return here in just a few days to Europe with my prime minister and that we will be able to… sign this agreement with Europe on October 27.”

Schulz also had an 11th-hour huddle with Paul Magnette, head of the Wallonia region’s socialist government which is blocking the agreement between Ottawa and the 28-nation bloc.

“We still have some difficulties between Europeans,” Magnette said about the talks.

“I am glad that… the part with Canada has been concluded and that the discussions we have had together have been very useful,” he added without giving further details.

Schultz also said after meeting with Magnette that the remaining sticking points are related to “problems within the European Union”.

“In my view, there is no problem that cannot be resolved,” he added.

The deal with Canada known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would link the EU market of 500 million people with the world’s 10th biggest economy.

The accord was initially scheduled to be signed next Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels — and Schulz said that that date remained in the diary.

Canada blasted the EU on Friday as incapable of signing international agreements, as talks to persuade Wallonia to sign up to the huge trade deal broke down.

Freeland’s comments fed into warnings that the EU, beset by rising anti-globalisation sentiment, may never be able to land any other deals including one with the United States.

“It seems obvious to me, to Canada, that the European Union is incapable now of having an international agreement, even with a country with such European values as Canada, and even with a country as kind and patient as Canada,” Freeland said Friday.

– ‘Democracy takes time’ –

Wallonia’s government chief Magnette told AFP on Friday that his Belgian region needed more time but that there was still scope for an agreement.

“Democracy takes a little time,” Magnette said. “I wasn’t asking for months, but you can’t carry out a parliamentary process in two days.”

The Walloon parliament earlier this week refused to let the federal Belgian government approve the deal between Canada and the European Union, which needs to be backed by all 28 EU member states.

Belgium has seven elected assemblies: the geographic regions of Wallonia, Flanders and Brussels; the three linguistic communities; as well as a parliament and senate at the federal level.

The CETA is opposed by anti-globalisation groups who say it is a test model to push through an even more controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP, talks on which have also stalled.

There have been protests against both deals in several cities.

Magnette on Friday pointed in particular to a highly controversial investment protection scheme buried in the deal that has drawn the fury of activists, and which is also involved in TTIP.

Wallonia enjoyed support from activist groups like Greenpeace which charged that the deal risked satisfying “corporate greed” and trampling on people’s rights and health standards on both sides of the Atlantic.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday dismissed warnings that the EU-Canada deal raised serious questions about whether London could strike a similar agreement after Brexit.