EU leaders await fate of blocked Canada trade deal


EU leaders on Friday were anxiously awaiting a breakthrough with the small Belgian region of Wallonia that is blocking a vast free trade deal linking Europe with Canada.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel phoned Canadian premier Justin Trudeau early Friday, after negotiations between EU officials and Wallonia’s head of government failed to find a compromise.

Michel, who staunchly backs the deal with Canada known as CETA, was forced to brief worried EU leaders on Thursday as talks between Paul Magnette and the bloc bogged down.

“I really hope to walk away with an agreement with Canada today,” said Estonian Prime Minister Taavi Roivas as he arrived for the second day of an EU summit on trade.

Magnette was set to hold more talks with Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland early Friday before giving the state-of-play of negotiations to his regional MPs in the Walloon capital city of Namur, 70 km (40 miles) southeast of Brussels.

“I’m insisting we need this trade arrangement with Canada. It is the best one we have ever concluded,” said Jean-Claude Juncker, the head of the European Commission, which handles trade negotiations for the EU.

European Council President Donald Tusk, the summit host, warned CETA “could be our last free trade agreement, if we are not able to convince people that we negotiate to protect their interests.”

Magnette has a raft of objections to the CETA accord and is asking that its signing next week with Canadian Premier Justin Trudeau be delayed indefinitely.

“I understand his position … The Walloons were handed a ‘fait accompli'” said French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl to RMC radio in Paris.

“The parliaments … have the choice between a yes or a no and some would rather it be a yes or a yes,” added Fekl, who reluctantly backed CETA.

The Canada deal is opposed by a wide array of groups, who say it is a test model to push through an even more controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP, still in negotiation.

Activists believe the deals threaten EU environmental and consumer protection standards, and allow multinationals to skirt regulations.

© 2016 AFP

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