Top EU official intervenes with talks to try to save Canada trade pact

A top European Union official says he remains hopeful a compromise can be found to clear the way for signing a trade pact between Canada and the 28-nation bloc as planned next Thursday, but a lone region in Belgium has affirmed it’s not ready to support the agreement.

CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) is being blocked by Wallonia, a French-speaking region in Belgium. People there worry the deal will hurt their farmers and public services.

The Walloon leader on Saturday said he’s still not on side, even though all national governments of the EU are ready to sign an agreement that was seven years in the making.

“I think it’s worth taking a little more time,” Walloon leader Paul Magnette said after a meeting in Brussels with European Parliament President Martin Schulz, arranged in an effort to save the pact.

Schulz, who earlier Saturday met with Canadian International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, said Europe will work to ease any concerns.

“I think we clarified a lot of points. Other points I will discuss with President Magnette a little bit later. But I take note today that the Canadian side is prepared to sign,” he said.

“The problems on the table are European problems, and we have to solve it. And I’m very confident that we can solve that we have within the European Union,” he said.

At a joint news conference with Schulz before heading home, Freeland emphasized that Canada is done negotiating.

EU-Belgium talks collapse

A dejected International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, right, leaves talks in Brussels Friday aimed at resolving objections by Wallonia Minister-President Paul Magnette, left, that are holding up the Canada-EU trade deal. ((Reuters/VRT Belgium video image))

“From Canada’s perspective, our work is done,” she said on Saturday. “We’ve done our job, and Canada is ready to sign this agreement. Now the ball is in Europe’s court and it’s time for Europe to finish doing its job.”

Although Freeland headed back to Canada, she hopes to return with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in the coming week to sign CETA.

Freeland walked away from the talks on Friday, saying that the EU appeared incapable of signing the deal. The pact was produced two years ago but must be endorsed unanimously.

Belgium won’t sign on to CETA without the support of its regions.

Politicians in Wallonia, which is smaller than New Jersey, argue the proposed deal would undermine labour, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local companies.

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