Belgian region set to block EU-Canada free trade deal

Tue Oct 11, 2016 11:54am EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - A region of Belgium is set to block a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement, which could undermine the European Union's entire trade policy and dim Britain's hopes of a speedy deal once it leaves the bloc.

EU trade ministers will vote in a week on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which requires unanimous support to enter force. Belgium's federal government favors the pact, but needs the backing of the country's three regions and linguistic communities to give its formal approval.

Lawmakers in French-speaking Wallonia, except Prime Minister Charles Michel's liberal MR party, oppose CETA because they see it as a threat to public services and to farmers, through a flood of imported pork and beef, and they also reject what they see as its over-protection of foreign multinational firms.

"We had hoped that the negotiators would have at least tried to find some improvements, some corrections for Belgium. Today that hasn't happened," Andre Antoine, president of the Walloon regional parliament, told Reuters.

"We will probably have, though I will leave it for each to say, a rejection by Brussels, in Wallonia and likely too the German-speaking side. Simply put, the south of Belgium is not in favor," he added in a telephone conversation late on Monday.

The government of Belgium's 70,000-strong German-speaking community said it had still not decided. The Walloon parliament will debate the issue on Friday. Virginie Defrang-Firket, an MR lawmaker in Wallonia, said she doubted there would be a change of course.

"They have gone so far in their opposition that, whatever is proposed, they can't take a step back. They are not in a constructive attitude that could lead to a solution," she said. "What message are we giving to our European partners?"

Trade experts say failure to seal a deal with Canada will undermine the EU's credibility as a potential trade partner.   Continued...

Thousands of people demonstrate against the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in the centre of Brussels, Belgium September 20, 2016. Reuters/Eric Vidal