EU edging closer to agreeing free trade deal with Canada
The European Union (EU) has edged closer to being able to sign a free trade deal with Canada on Thursday after Belgium made progress in lifting the veto of one of its regions.
However, whether Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau would be able to fly to Brussels for the official signature ceremony, seven years after the negotiations started, remains unclear to everyone.
EU President Donald Tusk told legislators on Wednesday that "the summit tomorrow is still possible" after days of talks in Brussels between the national government and its regions seemed to be heading for a breakthrough.
Belgium needs all its regions to sign on and the EU, in turn, needs unanimity among all its 28 states.
Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said during a break in talks on Wednesday that "all necessary documents" could be sent to EU officials later in the day for a final vetting among member states.
Rudy Demotte, leader of the Wallonia-Brussels federation, which is closely aligned with the francophone Wallonia region in Belgium's constitutional structure, said "we still need a bit of time for some verification and political contacts to see if the conditions are respected and if the texts match legally what we want to express politically".
Paul Magnette, leader of Belgium's holdout region Wallonia, said some details still need to be clarified, notably in the agriculture sector where he wants his farmers better protected.
If the regional leaders agree, the deal would likely still have to go back to the regional francophone legislatures for approval.
It makes the deadline for signature ever tighter, making it more likely by the hour that Thursday's EU-Canada summit could be scrapped.
Politicians in Wallonia, which has a population of 3.6 million compared to more than 500 million for the whole EU, argue the proposed accord would undermine labour, the 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.