Belgian 'Non' blocks EU approval of Canada trade deal

Tue Oct 18, 2016 6:33pm EDT
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By Philip Blenkinsop

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - EU governments failed on Tuesday to approve a free trade agreement with Canada, as continued opposition from French-speaking southern Belgium threatened the entire deal.

Almost all 28 EU governments, whose ministers were meeting in Luxembourg, now back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would be the bloc's first trade accord with a G7 country.

Failure to strike a deal with such a like-minded country would call into question the EU's ability to forge others, and offer a pointer to the difficulties Britain might face in seeking a new trade relationship with the EU after it leaves.

Romania and Bulgaria were still demanding Canada allow visa-free travel for its citizens. But the biggest risk to finding unanimity was opposition from Belgium's Wallonia region.

"A formal agreement was not possible because Romania, Bulgaria and Belgium still have reservations," German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel told reporters after the meeting, adding these issues could be resolved in the coming days.

In Ottawa, Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said she was cautiously optimistic.

"We appreciate European politics is complicated ... ultimately this is a European decision. I am both hopeful - and I also hope - that Europe and Europeans can come together to make this decision," she told reporters.

CETA's supporters say it will increase bilateral trade by 20 percent and boost the EU economy by 12 billion euros ($13 billion) per year and Canada's by C$12 billion ($9 billion).   Continued...

People march to protest against the planned CETA free trade agreement (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) between the European Union and Canada, and similar plans between EU and United States (TTIP) in Warsaw, Poland October 15, 2016. Agencja Gazeta/Kuba Atys/via REUTERS