Europe trade deal over­comes re­gional hur­dle

Power change in Wal­lo­nia lifts ob­sta­cle WE HAVE MADE PROGRESS, BUT IT’S A LONG WAY (TO GO).

National Post (Latest Edition) - - CANADA - MARIE-DANIELLE SMITH Na­tional Post md­smith@post­ Twit­ter: mariedanielles

OT­TAWA • A ma­jor road­block in the rat­i­fi­ca­tion of Canada’s free trade agree­ment with Europe seems to have lifted, ac­cord­ing to Bel­gium’s deputy prime min­is­ter.

In an in­ter­view Tues­day, Di­dier Reyn­ders said Bel­gians see Canada as a part­ner on pro­mot­ing mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism while ma­jor pow­ers seem to slide back to­wards pro­tec­tion­ist at­ti­tudes. He shrugged off Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s de­ci­sion not to meet with Bel­gian roy­als as they visit Canada this week, and down­played Rideau Hall putting up the wrong coun­try’s flag by ac­ci­dent Mon­day.

This first of­fi­cial state visit in 41 years comes about six months af­ter the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment, CETA, en­tered into pro­vi­sional ap­pli­ca­tion.

Reyn­ders, who also acts as the Bel­gian for­eign min­is­ter, said Wal­lo­nia, a French-speak­ing re­gion within Bel­gium, seems poised to rat­ify CETA de­spite its quib­bles al­most pre­vent­ing the deal from be­ing signed in late 2016.

It is led by a dif­fer­ent par­lia­men­tary ma­jor­ity as of last sum­mer, one that seems more re­cep­tive to the idea of trade.

He said Bel­gium’s seven par­lia­ments, which all need to sign off in­di­vid­u­ally, will likely fin­ish the rat­i­fi­ca­tion process late this year or early next year. Of the EU’s 28 mem­ber states ( soon to be 27, once Brexit takes ef­fect), only about a quar­ter have rat­i­fied so far.

Bel­gium is al­ready see­ing ben­e­fits since the ma­jor­ity of CETA came into ef­fect last Septem­ber, said Reyn­ders. A few kinks still need to be worked out, though. One of the ma­jor points of con­tention dur­ing the fi­nal stages of ne­go­ti­a­tions — in­clud­ing one that had Wal­lo­nia threat­en­ing to block CETA com­pletely — was how in­vest­ment dis­putes could be set­tled among the trade part­ners.

In­stead of us­ing ex­ist­ing mech­a­nisms, Canada and the EU ne­go­ti­ated a new “i nvest­ment court” that would, in the­ory, be more trans­par­ent than the dis­pute set­tle­ment pan­els al­ready be­ing used in other trade agree­ments. But the de­tails have not been agreed upon. “We have made some progress, but it’s a long way (to go),” he said.

At Bel­gium’s re­quest, the Euro­pean Court of Jus­tice is pre­par­ing ad­vice for the EU on the le­gal­i­ties of this ap­proach.

Re­cent ac­tions by t he United States are only fur­ther proof that gov­ern­ments be­liev­ing in mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism should try to part­ner with each other, said Reyn­ders. He said he had a “very in­ter­est­ing meet­ing” with Cana­dian trade min­is­ter François- Philippe Cham­pagne about the ben­e­fits of free trade on Mon­day.

“Of course with the evo­lu­tion in the world now it’s i mpor­tant t hat we have some part­ners able to de­fend the same val­ues. ... When you look to Rus­sia, when you look to Turkey, when you l ook to China, maybe also to your neigh­bour coun­try to the south, they are more and more evo­lu­tions in a neg­a­tive way about mul­ti­lat­er­al­ism,” said Reyn­ders.

As he sat down and set­tled in for the in­ter­view, Reyn­ders was glued to a smart­phone. He said he was read­ing news re­ports to un­der­stand what was hap­pen­ing with his coun­ter­part in the U. S. — Rex Tiller­son, with whom he said Bel­gium had “very good re­la­tions,” had just been sacked.

The un­pre­dictabil­ity of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion and its de­ci­sions has caused headaches for both coun­tries.

Canada is ex­empt from steel and alu­minum tar­iffs im­posed by the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for “na­tional se­cu­rity” rea­sons. But the Euro­pean Union, col­lec­tively one of the world’s big­gest steel pro­duc­ers, isn’t.

“There’s no na­tional se­cu­rity rea­son to have such clar­i­fi­ca­tion about steel and alu­minum. It’s non­sense,” Reyn­ders said, adding Bel­gium and other Euro­pean coun­tries are part of the same mil­i­tary al­liance as the U. S. with NATO, and co­op­er­ate ex­ten­sively on se­cu­rity is­sues.

A pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with the steel is­sue is what’s get­ting Trudeau a pass on his de­ci­sion not to meet with Bel­gian roy­alty, though Reyn­ders ad­mit­ted that in ad­di­tion to meet­ing min­is­ters and the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral, “we would pre­fer also to dis­cuss with the prime min­is­ter.”

“As a politi­cian, I fully un­der­stand that this may be a pri­or­ity to be very close to the work­ers, very close to the dif­fer­ent peo­ple in­volved in the steel in­dus­try,” he said.

Over a ker­fuf­fle Mon­day that had a Bel­gian jour­nal­ist notic­ing a Ger­man flag at the Gov­er­nor Gen­eral’s res­i­dence, Rideau Hall — it has the same colours, but in hor­i­zon­tal stripes rather than ver­ti­cal ones — Reyn­ders was non­cha­lant.

“There are so many flags in the city that such a prob­lem with one is not a real dif­fi­culty to us,” he said, adding, “we are very close with Ger­many.”


Queen Mathilde and King Philippe of Bel­gium tour the Cana­dian War Mu­seum in Ot­tawa on Tues­day.


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