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22nd Feb 2020

EU and Wallonia still stuck on Canada accord

  • Wallonia wants a legally-binding declaration to interpret the EU-Canada deal (Photo: Peter Teffer)

[Updated at 07.12 on 21 October] The Walloon government rejected on Thursday evening (20 October) a compromise proposed by the EU to overcome the Belgian region's opposition to the Canada-EU free trade deal, Ceta.

EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker later said negotiations will continue on Friday morning.

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"I am still hopeful that we will come to a good result in the course of the night and tomorrow morning," he said.

"If we can't conclude this trade arrangement with Canada, I don't see how it will be possible to conclude agreements with other parts of the world," he added.

***

On the sidelines of the summit, EU ambassadors held an extraordinary meeting in Brussels to discuss a revised declaration proposed by the European Commission in answer to Wallonia's concerns.

According to a source, the diplomats raised no objection at first sight to the revised text - an 8-page document that clarifies the trade deal and called joint interpretative instrument - intended to strengthen its legal value.

But Wallonia's leader Paul Magnette later said the changes were not sufficient. The region's parliament will meet on Friday morning to discuss the situation.

The Walloons are also planning to negotiate directly with the Canadians.

"For the Canadians, unlike the EU's position, there is still room for negotiations, and I will meet the [Canadian trade] minister and negotiator tomorrow [Friday] to discuss with them where it is still possible to improve the texts that were submitted to us on Thursday," Magnette said.

The new version of the interpretative document now includes safeguards on the right to regulate privacy and data protection, some amendments about labour rights, general services, public procurement, social security and insurance.

The revised document also introduces guarantees against excessive Canadian agricultural imports and addresses concerns about the investor protection court system.

The changes were made based on two rounds of negotiations between Wallonia and the EU commission.

The Walloon leader, Paul Magnette, who has been hailed as a hero by anti-Ceta campaigners, had met EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem on Wednesday.

The commission said the talks were "constructive" and a new version of the declaration was sent to Magnette Friday afternoon.

EU leaders are also expected to discuss the Ceta agreement on Friday in Brussels.

"Work will continue overnight," another EU source said and EU ambassadors are ready to meet when necessary.

All 28 member states have to agree before the EU can formally sign Ceta at a summit with the Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels next week.

The Belgian federal government needs the consent of its regional entities, which Wallonia has so far refused to give.

Trade will top the summit's agenda on Friday and EU officials hope to convince Wallonia by then. One of the sources said that Canada wanted to know on Saturday at the latest whether the summit planned next week would actually take place.

Another negotiation is taking place between Canada on one side and Romania and Bulgaria on the other to overcome a second obstacle.

Romania and Bulgaria want guarantees from Canada that visa requirements will be lifted after Ceta is signed.

"We are waiting for Canada to give the two countries what they need" to endorse the deal, one of the sources said. The solution could be a timetable for a progressive lifting of visas for Romanian and Bulgarian citizens.

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