CETA Trade Deal Deadlock Broken

Alicia Nicholls

UPDATE: Text of the Addendum (in French) is available here.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the European Union (EU) and Canada has finally won the backing of Belgium’s hold-out Walloon region. This is according to reporting by BBC News which broke the news earlier this evening. According to the BBC, Belgium’s Prime Minister, Charles Michel,  has advised that after internal negotiations among Belgium’s federated bodies, an addendum to the deal has been struck which has “addressed regional concerns over the rights of farmers and governments”.

Hailed as the EU’s most ambitious agreement with a third party to date, CETA is a  landmark agreement encompassing not just the elimination of customs duties on goods between the EU and Canada, but also deep provisions on trade in services, intellectual property, investment, government procurement, inter alia. Though negotiations formally ended in 2014, the agreement has not yet been signed.

As a mixed agreement under EU law, CETA requires the signature of all 28 EU member states (in accordance with their own constitutional arrangements). Under Belgium’s federated structure, the consent of its regional legislatures is required before the Belgium federal government can sign trade agreements with third states.

Wallonia is Belgium’s francophone region, with a population of 3.6 million which is generally less prosperous than Flanders, the Dutch-speaking region.  Wallonia’s minister-president, Paul Magnette had raised a number of concerns over the Agreement’s provisions which he insisted needed to be addressed before Wallonia would give its support. These included, chiefly, the potential impact on Walloon farmer’s in the face of competition from Canadian pork and beef imports and the potential impact of the agreement’s investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions on governments’ regulatory rights.

Monday’s deadline which the EU had set for Belgium to address its internal opposition to the agreement was missed and the signing ceremony which had been carded for today, Thursday, was cancelled. The prospect of one region potentially vetoing seven years’ of negotiating work led not only to concerns about the EU’s ability to effectively enter into international trade deals with third parties, but  on whether a similar scenario would play out in the Brexit negotiations with the UK..

Symptomatic of the anti-globalisation, anti-free trade furor sweeping over western countries, CETA has faced some popular and political opposition in other European countries as well, although all EU governments (including the Belgium federal government) have indicated their intention to sign.

So, it seems as though disaster has been averted for now and both the EU and Canada can give a sigh of relief. Wallonia’s acquiescence paves the way for Belgium to sign the Agreement. However, two notes of caution must be borne in mind. Firstly, the exact details of the Belgian addendum have not been reported as yet. Secondly, the addendum will need to be accepted by the remaining 27 EU member states. Suffice it to say, the ending of this story has not been written as yet.

As an update, the text of the Addendum (in French) is available here.

Read the full BBC article here.

Alicia Nicholls, B.Sc., M.Sc., LL.B. is a trade and development consultant with a keen interest in sustainable development, international law and trade. You can also read more of her commentaries and follow her on Twitter @LicyLaw.

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