EU & Canada scramble to save CETA after Belgium rejects it

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The European Union (EU) is scrambling to try and save its Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) free trade deal with Canada ahead of this Thursday’s planned signing on 27 October. The deal was rejected by three Belgium regions led by Wallonia at the start of the week.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) free trade deal between the EU and Canada has been seven years in the making but Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel scuppered it on Monday this week when he said he “did not have the unanimous approval of his country’s federal, regional and community bodies” to proceed.

CETA requires the support of all 28 EU nations before it can be approved.

A mad dash is now underway to try and save it before Thursday 27 October when the Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau, was due to fly in to sign the deal.

Talks with Wallonia, a French-speaking socialist region of 3.6m people, and two other elected regional bodies that rejected CETA had failed, explained Belgium’s PM Michel, amid concerns about a weakening of safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards. He couldn’t therefore back the free trade deal.

European Council (EC) President Donald Tusk, who leads the executive arm of the EU and hopes to persuade the recalcitrant individual nations to agree, immediately responded that he was in talks with PM Trudeau to try to salvage the situation. On Monday he tweeted: “Together with PM @JustinTrudeau, we think Thursday’s summit [is] still possible. We encourage all parties to find a solution. There’s yet time.”

Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s federal minister for international trade, said she too remained hopeful the deal can be saved, but that “the ball is in Europe’s court”.

With the clock ticking down towards the original 27 October signing deadline Commission spokesman, Margaritis Schinas, tried to kick the can down the road, when he told the BBC: “The Commission traditionally does not set deadlines or ultimatums. Now, we need patience.”

However, unless the CETA deal can be saved soon the EU could be seen as incapable of controlling its individual nations and therefore unable to make bilateral free trade deals with other leading economic blocs around the world.

TTIP

CETA is considered to be a forerunner and useful template for future planned EU trade deals such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the US and even the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

Its demise prompted the centre-right leader of Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders region, Geert Bourgeois, to say: “We’re the laughing stock of the whole world,” according to a news report from Reuters, and that the blockage was “a real shame.”

CETA was supposed to eliminate 98% of tariffs between the EU and Canada, saving the former’s exporters EUR500m in duties annually.

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