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Brussels

Wallonia torpedos CETA deal with Canada

In order to pass, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada, must be backed by all 28 EU governments, but Belgium cannot vote for the deal without the support from all seven regional, linguistic and federal entities.

Published: October 22, 2016, 11:51 am

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    Lawmakers from Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia voted against the EU-Canada trade deal (CETA) on Friday, threatening to derail the long delayed agreement.

    Canada’s Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland stormed out of possibly the ultimate talks with the Walloon PM Paul Magnette to break the deadlock. In an emotional address, Freeman underlined her immense disappointment, but also said that she thinks it’s impossible to come to an agreement with the Walloon government.

    The agreement will introduce a secret corporate court system, empowering big business to sue states for policies that threaten their profits. It will also pave the way for the privatization of public services and the deregulation of social, health and environmental protections.

    The parties managed to make some progress regarding agricultural issues, according to Magnette. However, the regional government still has concerns over multinational companies using the Canadian deal as a backdoor into Europe.

    “We have clearly indicated, for more than a year, that we have a real difficulty with the arbitration mechanism, which could be used by multinationals based in Canada, that are not really Canadian companies, and on this point we find the proposals insufficient,” he stressed.

    “I will not give powers to the federal government, and Belgium will not sign CETA on October 18,” Magnette told an emergency session of the regional parliament. The talks had been going on for seven years.

    Belgium’s federal government favors the pact but by law Brussels needs the backing of Wallonia. The French region boasts one cow for every three humans and its farmers are wary of cheap Canadian competition. A Walloon dairy farmer who joined protests againts the deal, says he already faces milk prices below his production costs.

    Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said this week he was running out of patience after two years of delays and warned that killing the deal would send “a very clear message… that Europe is not productive”.

    “If Europe cannot manage to sign this agreement, then that sends a very clear message not just to Europeans but to the whole world that Europe is choosing a path that is not productive, either for its citizens or for the world, and that would be a shame.”

    Wallonia’s Minister-President said the region could shutdown future EU votes.

    On Thursday, the German Constitutional Court backed the trade pact despite strong opposition.

    Some 200,000 signatures have been already collected from Germans who oppose the pact. Anti-CETA campaigners say the agreement will violate workers’ rights and serve only the interests of the wealthy elite. They also fear the pact will be used to push through another controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP.

    The deal with Canada is intended to eliminate tariffs on 98 percent of goods immediately after ratification and also encompasses regulatory cooperation, shipping, and access to government tenders.

    CETA must be ratified by 38 regional and national EU parliaments before it can be implemented fully. The breakdown is an embarrassing failure for the EU, who are now scratching their heads over how their much-heralded trade deal was shut down by a regional federation.

    Protest in Wallonia was less lively than in Hamburg a few weeks earlier; opposition in Germany and France could just as easily derail proceedings.

    Time is running out for the deal as CETA is supposed to be signed at an EU-Canada summit next week in the presence of Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau.

    The rejection will also set alarm bells ringing in the UK. Theresa May and her Brexit ministers had been preparing their own EU trade deal under the expectation of simple negotiations with the Union.

    karin@praag.org

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