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25th Jan 2021

Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock

  • Walloon leader, Paul Magnette, the face of Ceta opposition.

[Updated at 8.00 on 28 October] The EU hopes to now sign the EU-Canada trade agreement, Ceta, by Friday evening (28 October), a day after Belgian federal and regional authorities agreed to authorise the Belgian government to back the deal.

The modifications of the Belgian agreement were approved by EU ambassadors at a meeting on Thursday evening, before being sent to EU capitals for final validation by all 28 member states through an accelerated written procedure.

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"After all procedures are concluded, we will be able to say that the EU is ready to sign the CETA agreement," the Slovak presidency of the EU council said in a statement.

Belgium’s political entities came to an agreement on Thursday afternoon after intensive talks in Brussels, ending on the day when Ceta was due to be signed at an EU-Canada summit. This came the day after Canadian prime minister, Justin Trudeau, cancelled his trip.

The deal has been on thin ice for weeks. It managed to secure the backing of 27 EU member states out of 28, with Belgium holding out due to the region of Wallonia. Under Belgium’s devolved system, all federated entities needed to approve international trade agreements.

Wallonia had vetoed the ratification on the premise that Ceta put corporate interests before citizens and could damage EU agriculture.

After a week of marathon negotiations, Belgian prime minister Charles Michel said that Thursday's talks had calmed "outstanding concerns".

"Wallonia is extremely happy that our demands were heard," the region's leader Paul Magnette told journalists.

”Thanks to you, we have reached major achievements for Walloons and Europeans,” he added in a Twitter message addressed to supporters.

As part of the trade-off, Belgium will ask the European Court of Justice to clarify the proposed investment court system, which was one of the most controversial elements of the trade deal.

Walloons feared the mechanism gave companies too much power, as they could sue governments for passing laws that hurt profits.

Ceta was due to be signed off by EU leaders and Canada’s prime minister Justin Trudeau at a summit in Brussels on Thursday. Trudeau cancelled the trip during the night as no agreement had been reached in Brussels.

It’s not known when the summit will take place, or whether the Belgian go-ahead was the last hurdle.

The other 27 EU countries must first accept the Belgian deal.

At their meeting on Thursday, EU ambassadors will be accompanied by lawyers and representatives of the EU institutions, who will examine the legality and consequences of the text.

The Walloon parliament will vote on the agreement on Friday.

European Council president Donald Tusk cautiously welcomed the Belgian development.

”Only once all the procedures are finalised for the EU to sign Ceta will I contact prime minister Justin Trudeau,” he wrote on Twitter.

"If it materialises, it is excellent news," Canadian foreign minister Stephane Dion said, adding that he was "cautiously optimistic" that the deal could be signed soon.

Canada woos sceptical EU left on trade deal

Future of CETA largely hangs on the support of Europe’s social democrats. Canada’s trade minister has been touring hotspots of scepticism to convince them that the deal is progressive.

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