EU, Canada still hope to sign trade deal after Belgian 'Non'

Mon Oct 24, 2016 3:33pm EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop and Robert-Jan Bartunek

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgium declared on Monday that it could not formally back a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada because of an internal dispute, but the two sides still appeared to be holding out hopes of a summit to sign off on the deal.

Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region opposes the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which needs the unanimous support of all 28 EU nations to be approved.

The EU had given Belgium until late on Monday to overcome that opposition or the EU-Canada summit on Thursday to sign the pact with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be cancelled.

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said he could not give consent. But European Council President Donald Tusk said he and Trudeau still believed the summit could go ahead.

"Together with PM @JustinTrudeau, we think Thursday's summit still possible," Tusk said in a tweet. "We encourage all parties to find a solution. There's yet time."

In Ottawa, a Trudeau spokesman said the Canadian prime minister and Tusk agreed to stay in close contact "in the coming hours and days".

Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said "CETA isn't dead" but she sidestepped questions about what would happen if the EU failed to come to an agreement this week.

"We wish them well and we hope they can get there ... this deal is done - it's time to move on, get it signed and then get it ratified," she told reporters in the Canadian capital.   Continued...

Canada's International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, October 24, 2016. REUTERS/Chris Wattie