Belgium’s Walloons have reversed their earlier decision to block the Canada-EU free trade agreement.
All the Belgian legislatures previously opposed to signing the Canada-Europe trade deal voted to approve signing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) Friday.
A signing ceremony is now expected with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels, perhaps as early as this weekend.
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The minister-president of the region, Paul Magnette, presented the amended version to the Walloon MPs on Friday morning, saying that the amendments guaranteed the “highest level” of standards in social, environmental or agricultural norms, “despite its flaws.”
The first of two votes in Wallonia’s capital, Namur, legislators voted 58-5 in favour on Friday afternoon.
A vote later Friday evening in the Wallonie-Bruxelles legislature passed 50-12.
Both reverse negative votes from earlier this month.
“The amended and corrected CETA is more just than the old CETA. It offers more guarantees and it is what I will defend,” Magnette told his parliament.
Thursday’s Belgian declaration addresses fears held by CETA skeptics that the deal’s system to protect foreign investors could strengthen multinationals. It also provides a safeguard clause for farmers.
“With this saga, which I must say made some noise, everybody in Europe knows the Walloon parliament exists,” he said.
Of CETA’s controversial new investor court system, Magnette said Wallonia has now made its ratification conditional upon “the establishment of a genuine jurisdiction whose establishment will be submitted to the European Court of Justice of the EU.”
“This treaty must become our reference,” he said. “We will no longer negotiate a treaty that does not respect this level of reference. And we can already draw the conclusion: TTIP (Europe’s proposed agreement with the U.S.), with the improved CETA, is dead.”
Once all the votes had finished, European Council President Donald Tusk was expected to contact Trudeau to reschedule a signing ceremony, perhaps as early as this weekend.
After that, the agreement proceeds to the European Parliament for a ratification vote.
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Earlier Friday, German-speaking legislators, who had expressed some doubts too, also voted in favour. The Flemish parliaments have been supportive all along.
In a joint statement Friday, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) and European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) said the difficulties in Belgium over the last couple of weeks were the result of a negotiation process that was conducted in secrecy.
It condemned the pressure placed on Wallonian institutions.
“We believe that this situation could have been avoided if the negotiating parties had consulted trade unions and civil society in a serious way and made negotiations more transparent right from the beginning,” it said.
A joint interpretative declaration came “too late and in a very limited time frame to be discussed properly,” it said.