Belgium keeps EU, Canada waiting over trade deal

Wed Oct 26, 2016 7:49pm EDT
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By Robert-Jan Bartunek and Philip Blenkinsop

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Belgian politicians failed to break their deadlock over a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement on Wednesday, but agreed to resume talks on Thursday in a sign they may be nearing a consensus that would keep the deal alive.

The news prompted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to call off plans to fly to Brussels on Wednesday night. He had been due to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at a summit on Thursday.

CETA, seven years in the making, is backed by all 27 other EU governments but rejected by the French-speaking south of Belgium, meaning Belgium as a whole cannot sign it.

Prime Minister Charles Michel worked with the heads of Belgium's regions and linguistic communities to produce a common text to allay concerns about agricultural imports and a dispute settlement system that critics say could be abused by multi nationals to dictate public policy.

"We made a lot of progress, but we are not there yet. We will continue tomorrow, but we are close to an agreement," Oliver Paasch, the head of Belgium's 76,000-strong German-speaking community, told reporters after a third joint meeting on Wednesday.

Trudeau has been ramping up pressure on the EU in recent weeks, saying the bloc would show it was on the wrong path if it could not sign a deal with a progressive nation like Canada.

"The Canadian delegation will not be travelling to Europe tonight.‎ Canada remains ready to sign this important agreement when Europe is ready," said Alex Lawrence, spokesman for Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland.

Lawrence, speaking by phone, said Canada would not be making any further comment until Thursday.   Continued...

Members of the Confederal Group of the European United Left of the European Parliament display posters with the words "stop CETA" as they take part in a voting session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, October 26, 2016. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler