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Belgium reaches agreement on EU-Canada free trade deal

Published 27/10/2016

People hold a banner reading
People hold a banner reading "Stop Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), stop EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), stop European agreements with the United States and Canada" during a protest against the CETA at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
A man dressed like a clown with a sticker and a t-shirt reading "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) game over" gestures as behind him demonstrators face Belgian police officers during a protest against the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
People dressed like clowns sit on the ground and hold ribbons reading "Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) free-zone" during a protest against the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. Belgium announced on October 27, 2016 a breakthrough in talks to secure a landmark EU-Canada trade deal by winning over the leaders of a recalcitrant Belgian region, potentially snapping a deadlock which threatened European credibility anew. However, the announcement came too late for EU leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to go ahead with a signing ceremony in Brussels on October 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYSJOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images
A woman with a flyer stuck on her forehead reading "Stop Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), stop EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), stop European agreements with the United States and Canada" takes part in a protest against the CETA at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. Belgium announced on October 27, 2016 a breakthrough in talks to secure a landmark EU-Canada trade deal by winning over the leaders of a recalcitrant Belgian region, potentially snapping a deadlock which threatened European credibility anew. However, the announcement came too late for EU leaders and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to go ahead with a signing ceremony in Brussels on October 27, 2016. / AFP PHOTO / JOHN THYSJOHN THYS/AFP/Getty Images

The Belgian government has reached an agreement to back the free trade deal between the European Union and Canada.

The move comes on the day the agreement was supposed to be officially signed with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

People with their mouth muzzled hold banners and placards as they take part in a protest against the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. AFP/Getty Images
People with their mouth muzzled hold banners and placards as they take part in a protest against the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) at European Union Commission headquarters in Brussels on October 27, 2016. AFP/Getty Images

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel was able to announce the agreement following days of negotiations with the region of Wallonia.

The region has veto power in Belgium and the broader EU needs unanimity among its 28 member states.

The deal will go through regional legislatures by Friday night.

Mr Trudeau has been due to travel to Brussels on Thursday to sign the deal, but those plans were effectively scrapped as the negotiations with Wallonia dragged on.

Still, getting the agreement was a huge relief to EU leaders, who had started negotiating the pact with Canada seven years ago.

"This is good news," said Mr Michel, adding that the new text of the deal provides guarantees for farmers and on a corporate dispute settlement system that "will allow us to sign the deal".

EU President Donald Tusk said he would contact Mr Trudeau "only once all procedures are finalised for EU signing CETA", as the trade deal is called.

Alex Lawrence, the spokesman for Canada's trade minister, said hours before that the country was prepared to sign the deal whenever Europe is ready.

Minister-President of Wallonia, Paul Magnette, speaks with the media (AP)
Minister-President of Wallonia, Paul Magnette, speaks with the media (AP)

Mr Trudeau earlier told Parliament he is prepared to wait longer.

"We are confident that in the coming days we will see a positive outcome for this historic deal," Mr Trudeau told Parliament.

Beyond the Belgian regional parliaments backing the agreement, the adjustments would have to be vetted by the 27 other nations. That makes a signing ceremony on Thursday impossible.

People hold a banner reading
People hold a banner reading "Stop EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)'s trojan horse". AFP/Getty Images

Politicians in Wallonia, which has a population of 3.6 million compared with over 500 million for the whole EU, argue that the proposed accord would undermine labour, environment and consumer standards.

Proponents say it would yield billions in added trade through customs and tariff cuts and other measures to lower barriers to commerce.

At the same time, the EU says it will keep in place the region's strong safeguards on social, environmental and labour issues.

He said Wallonia's insistence on a better deal would bolster EU standards and set a strong precedent for other trade talks between Europe and trading partners like the United States or Japan.

AP

Press Association

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