Thursday

26th May 2022

Wallonia rejects fresh EU ultimatum on Canada trade deal

The government of Belgium's French-speaking Walloon region rejected a fresh EU ultimatum to sign off on an EU free trade deal with Canada over the weekend.

Wallonia's minister-president Paul Magnette on Sunday (23 October) reportedly denounced a new European Commission proposal that aimed to alleviate concerns over an arbitration system that allows big firms to sue countries.

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A source close to Magnette told the AFP that the commission proposal, sent Sunday, was even less progressive than those received on Friday and Saturday.

The commission proposal had also come with an ultimatum for the Walloon government to secure the deal by late Monday at the risk of cancelling the pact altogether.

Magnette told the Belga news agency that such an ultimatum was “not compatible with the exercise of democratic rights”.

A marmalade of texts

Walloon parliament spokesman Andre Antoine described the deal as a “marmalade of texts”.

“I have 300 pages of treaty, 1,300 pages of annexes. I have two, maybe three interpretative declarations. I have one interpretative instrument. I have emails, I have mails, I have bilateral declarations. I even have now a declaration from Belgium with other countries,” he told RTL Belgique radio on Monday (24 October).

The latest move follows a stand-off between EU trade negotiators and the Walloon government over outstanding issues on the EU-Canada deal, Ceta.

Belgium's government needs the support from all five of its regional authorities before it can sign off the deal.

The Walloons have so far refused despite direct appeals by Canada's minister for trade, Chrystia Freeland, who returned to Canada on Saturday amid threats to scupper an agreement that took years to negotiate.

Talks to reach a deal and appease Walloon concerns also appear increasingly acrimonious.

Magnette on Saturday hit back at EU negotiators for their persistence on getting Belgium to back a deal largely panned by anti-globalisation groups.

"It's a shame that the European Union pressure on those blocking the fight against fiscal fraud is not as intense," tweeted the Socialist regional leader.

Corporate power

Critics say the deal is a precursor to a larger EU trade pact with the United States under talks known as TTIP.

Fears over corporate power and the roll back of environmental and social standards underpin arguments against both free trade deals.

Wallonia's continued resistance to Ceta also casts doubts on whether Canada's prime minister Justin Trudeau will arrive in Brussels on Thursday to sign the deal.

European Council chief Donald Tusk is expected to discuss the latest developments on Monday with Trudeau and Belgium's prime minister Charles Michel.

Canada is the EU's 12th largest trading partner.

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Belgium prime minister Charles Michel said he was not able to sign Ceta because of a veto by Wallonia and other French-speaking entities. But an EU-Canada summit could still take place this week.

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