‘Noth­ing’s sim­ple’, Bel­gium says, signs EU-Canada deal

Kuwait Times - - BUSINESS -

Bel­gium yes­ter­day of­fi­cially signed the land­mark EU-Canada trade ac­cord af­ter a drama that saw Bel­gian re­gions threaten to tor­pedo years of negotiations.

“Noth­ing is sim­ple in Bel­gium but few things are im­pos­si­ble,” tweeted Bel­gian For­eign Min­is­ter Di­dier Reyn­ders af­ter sign­ing the pact on be­half of his coun­try. EU Trade Com­mis­sioner Ce­cilia Mal­strom, who ne­go­ti­ated the deal, at­tended the sign­ing with Bel­gium the last of the 28 EU coun­tries to ap­prove the Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment (CETA).

To­day, the Euro­pean Union and Canada will for­mally sign the trade ac­cord at a sum­mit in Brus­sels. Cana­dian Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau hailed the deal as “a good sign in an un­cer­tain world” in a phone call with EU pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk on Fri­day, an EU source said. CETA will re­move 99 per­cent of cus­toms du­ties be­tween the two sides, link­ing the sin­gle EU mar­ket of 500 mil­lion peo­ple with the world’s 10th largest economy.

Sun­day’s sum­mit will be­gin at 0930 GMT, with the agree­ment due to be signed at 1100 GMT, Tusk’s spokesman Preben Aa­mann said on Twit­ter. Just days ago, CETA-the most am­bi­tious deal ever ne­go­ti­ated by the EU-had been left hang­ing by a thread due to protests from Bel­gium’s Wal­lo­nia re­gion and other French­s­peak­ing com­mu­ni­ties over its po­ten­tially harm­ful ef­fect on lo­cal in­ter­ests.

Trudeau had been due to ar­rive in Brus­sels on Thurs­day to sign the deal but his trip had to be called off, with lead­ers in­clud­ing Tusk warn­ing that the de­ba­cle was fur­ther dam­ag­ing EU cred­i­bil­ity fol­low­ing Britain’s shock vote to leave the bloc.

Af­ter hit­ting dead­lock in talks with Wal­loon lead­ers last week, an emo­tional Cana­dian Trade Min­is­ter Chrys­tia Free­land dis­missed Brus­sels as “in­ca­pable” of achiev­ing an in­ter­na­tional agree­ment.

‘Not a comma changed’

Paul Mag­nette, head of the south­ern, French­s­peak­ing Wal­lo­nia re­gion, had fought for re­gional farm­ing in­ter­ests and guar­an­tees against in­ter­na­tional in­vestors forc­ing gov­ern­ments to change laws against the wishes of the peo­ple. Bel­gian Prime Min­is­ter Charles Michel has said the fraught talks with Wal­lo­nia that were fi­nally re­solved on Thurs­day “did not change a comma” in the deal, but Mag­nette says he re­ceived as­sur­ances from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment of strength­ened so­cial and en­vi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion. “CETA amended, CETA cor­rected-that is fairer than the for­mer CETA and of­fers more guar­an­tees,” Mag­nette said.

The EU was cleared to sign the pact shortly af­ter Wal­lo­nia’s par­lia­ment voted to ap­prove the deal, along with that of the Brus­sels-Cap­i­tal re­gion and the Fed­er­a­tion Wal­lo­nia-Brus­sels.

Once signed by the EU and Canada to­day, the trade pact will go into ef­fect on a pro­vi­sional ba­sis, pend­ing full mem­ber state rat­i­fi­ca­tion-a process that could take years. Prime Min­is­ter Robert Fico of Slo­vakia, which cur­rently holds the EU pres­i­dency, hailed the de­layed ap­proval of the deal as “a mile­stone in the EU’s trade pol­icy”. — AFP

BRUS­SELS: Vice-Prime Min­is­ter and For­eign Min­is­ter Di­dier Reyn­ders (cen­ter) signs next to Euro­pean Com­mis­sioner for Trade Ce­cilia Malm­strom (left) and Cana­dian Am­bas­sador Olivier Ni­coloff (R) dur­ing the sign­ing cer­e­mony by Bel­gium of the EU-Canada Com­pre­hen­sive Eco­nomic and Trade Agree­ment (CETA) yes­ter­day at the Eg­mont palace in Brus­sels. — AFP

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