Belgian region wants more time to fix EU-Canada trade deal

Wed Oct 19, 2016 2:42pm EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop and David Ljunggren

BRUSSELS/OTTAWA (Reuters) - The premier of the Belgian region that is the main impediment to a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement on Wednesday advised postponing a summit next week to sign the deal and taking a few more months to fix outstanding issues.

Walloon's Paul Magnette spoke as pressure mounted on him to drop opposition to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would be the bloc's first trade accord with a Group of Seven country.

Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland flew to Belgium on Wednesday for last-minute talks with Magnette and other European leaders. A spokesperson for Magnette confirmed he held separate meetings with Freeland and EU trade commissioner Cecelia Malmstrom on Wednesday.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and EU leaders are due to formally sign the agreement on Oct. 27.

Almost all 28 EU governments now back the deal. EU leaders meet this Thursday and Friday, but Magnette said he would not be pressured into accepting the deal this week.

Belgium's center-right coalition government is in favor of the pact, but the country's governmental structure means it cannot sign without backing from all five sub-federal administrations representing its regions and linguistic communities.

"I think it would be reasonable to postpone the summit to an unspecified date," Magnette told Belgian radio station La Premiere.

Magnette said discussions with Canadian officials had yielded some useful guarantees but not removed all concerns.   Continued...

A sign reading "The CETA was yesterday!" is seen on a tractor outside the Walloon regional parliament as deputies attend a debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement, in Namur, Belgium, October 14, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir