Credit: Antoine 49
Politics

CETA: Belgian state rejects EU-Canada trade deal

Wallonia is single handedly blocking an EU trade deal

By Melissa Moore

The Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) is an anticipated trade deal between Canada and the European Union. After almost eight years in the making, it is one of the EU’s most ambitious in its history.

The deal would allow Canada and the EU to eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs between them, which supporters argue would boost trade by 20 per cent and assist EU exporters in saving approximately €500 million in duties annually.

However, after ardent negotiations since 2008, it has fallen at the last hurdle.

As with all EU trade deals, each one must be signed by all 28 member states.

Belgium, a historically divided nation between different regions and languages, needs to have agreement from seven different federal, regional and community bodies. Wallonia, based in the South and a staunchly socialist province, has refused to sign the pact.

Wallonia’s refusal is indicative of wider concern about the continued expansion of globalisation and its effects on local interests.

Wallonia argues that trade deals such as CETA and the TTIP deal with the US, protect the interests of powerful multinational corporations and make it difficult for the corporations to be held to account by government.

Wallonia has received support from other European regions who agree with its opposition to the deal. On Saturday, 8,000 people including youngsters, farmers, union leaders and entrepreneurs joined a rally in Amsterdam in a show of solidarity.

They held banners which read, “Our world is not for sale” and “Stop these bad treaties”. The environmental activist group, Greenpeace, have also shown their support arguing that the deal risked satisfying “corporate greed”.

Highlighting the current strained relations, Wallonia’s regional leader Paul Magnette commented, “We still never sign anything under an ultimatum or under pressure.”

However, the affair has deeply humiliated EU leaders who had hoped such an ambitious deal would set a benchmark and pave the way for future deals with the region and with the United States.

The regional leader of Belgium’s Dutch-speaking Flanders area, Geert Bourgeois, was quoted by Reuters news agency as saying, “We’re the laughing stock of the whole world. It’s bad for Wallonia, for Flanders, for Belgium, for Europe, for the whole world.”

With the agreement expected to have been signed Thursday, it has led critics to argue how such an expansive and long awaited deal could have ended up in such difficulty.

Sebastian Dullien, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, criticised the commission for its role in the failure of negotiators to secure an agreement on the deal,

“The European Commission carries part of the blame because it didn’t quickly seek a dialogue with doubters. And for this type of deal, you need a large consensus”.

Concerns have been raised that this outcome is ominous for the UK which will need to forge its own trade deals with the European Union following Brexit, however Theresa May was quick to dismiss these warnings on Friday.

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