Belgian leaders break Ceta trade deadlock

Belgium backs Ceta trade deal between the EU and Canada

Belgian political leaders have reached a consensus in support of the Ceta trade deal between the EU and Canada.

Prime Minister Charles Michel said “an agreement was found after the latest round of negotiations with Belgium’s French-speaking communities who had been holding up the deal.”

A signing ceremony on Thursday was cancelled after the region of Wallonia vetoed the agreement.

A Belgian deal would still have to be approved by the other 27 EU members.

Federal system
Under Belgium’s federal system, the national government cannot sign the deal unless all six regional parliaments approve it.

French-speaking Wallonia, a staunchly socialist region of 3.6 million people, had been leading objections to the deal, demanding stronger safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards. But after the latest round of marathon talks, Mr Michel tweeted:“All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada.”

He said “regional politicians agreed a revised text that would allay “outstanding concerns” but gave no details.

Head of the Wallonian government, Paul Magnette welcomed the deal.

“We have finally found an agreement among the Belgians that will now be submitted to European institutions and our European partners,” Mr Magnette said.

“Wallonia is extremely happy that our demands were heard,” he added.

EU ambassadors meeting     
EU ambassadors are now meeting to examine the Belgian agreement for potential stumbling blocks.

There has been no announcement so far of a new date for signing the deal, nor has the visit of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau been rescheduled. He had been due to join the signing ceremony in Brussels on Thursday.

It took seven years to negotiate Ceta, the EU’s most ambitious trade deal yet.

Stumbling block
A major stumbling block had been the plan to create new commercial courts to handle disputes between companies and national governments.

Wallonia had feared they would give too much leverage to multinationals. It also wanted more protection for Walloon farmers, who would face new competition from Canadian imports.

The Ceta wrangling has raised new concerns about future UK negotiations with the EU on a Brexit trade deal.

Idris Aileru/Owolabi Grace