EU and Canada to sign trade pact after Belgians strike key deal

Fri Oct 28, 2016 6:49pm EDT
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By Robert-Jan Bartunek

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Canada and the European Union will sign a landmark free trade deal on Sunday after a series of key votes in Belgian regional assemblies on Friday ended opposition that had threatened to destroy the entire agreement.

Soon after the final Belgian vote, European Council president Donald Tusk called Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and invited him to Brussels for the signing ceremony, which is scheduled for noon local time (1000 GMT).

"The Canada-EU Summit will be Sunday. Great news and I'm looking forward to being there," Trudeau said on Twitter.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which backers say will boost bilateral trade by 20 percent, appeared to be in trouble after Belgium's French-speaking Wallonia region raised a series of late objections.

All 28 EU governments back CETA but Belgium's central government had been prevented from giving consent because it needed approval from sub-federal authorities.

After Belgian politicians agreed to an addendum on Thursday to allay Wallonia's concerns, the regional parliament voted on Friday to back the deal. The parliaments of Brussels and the Dutch-speaking community approved the deal a few hours later.

Wallonia's Socialist premier, Paul Magnette, who had become a hero to protesters across Europe, said the Belgian negotiations produced a deal he could live with.

"The amended and corrected CETA is more just than the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend," Magnette said.   Continued...

Minister-President of Wallonia Paul Magnette attends a meeting 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