EU sets Belgium Monday deadline to back Canada trade deal

Sun Oct 23, 2016 12:00pm EDT
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By Alastair Macdonald and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union has given Belgium until late on Monday to overcome opposition to a free trade deal with Canada from its French-speaking region or a summit to sign the pact that could boost both economies is off, EU sources said on Sunday.

EU trade negotiators are rushing to assuage the Walloon government's concerns before the Monday deadline set by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to decide whether to fly to Brussels, according sources familiar with the matter.

"The Commission has been working 24/7 to find a solution," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström tweeted on Sunday. "We now hope that Belgium will bring this matter to a successful close."

Canada, the EU's 12th-largest trading partner, says it is ready to sign the pact as planned on Thursday and years-long negotiations were over, with trade minister Chrystia Freeland saying "the ball is in the EU court."

All 28 EU governments back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which supporters say could increase trade by 20 percent, but Belgium cannot give assent without backing from its five sub-federal administrations.

French-speaking Wallonia has steadfastly opposed it, saying the deal is bad for Europe's farmers and gives too much power to global corporate interests.

Walloon premier Paul Magnette has said the summit should be delayed to allow more time to deliberate. "An ultimatum is not compatible with the exercise of democracy," he was cited by Belgian public broadcaster RTBF as saying on Sunday.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel will meet with the country's regions on Monday afternoon, RTBF reported.   Continued...

Minister-President of Wallonia Paul Magnette holds up notes during a debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement, at the Walloon regional parliament in Namur, Belgium October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir