EU negotiators try to salvage Canada trade deal

Ceta talks resume in Brussels following walkout by Canadian trade minister

 European Parliament president Martin Schulz and Walloon president Paul Magnette at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Melanie Wenger/EPA

European Parliament president Martin Schulz and Walloon president Paul Magnette at the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Melanie Wenger/EPA

 

European Parliament president Martin Schulz has said he is optimistic that the EU-Canada trade deal can be salvaged in the coming days following talks in Brussels on Saturday morning.

Mr Schulz chaired negotiations between Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland and the head of Belgium’s Wallonia Paul Magnette after Ms Freeland walked out of talks with EU trade negotiators in southern Belgium in tears on Friday.

After seven years of negotiations, the EU had hoped to sign off on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta) between the two blocs ahead of a scheduled EU-Canada summit next Thursday in Brussels.

However, the Belgian regional parliament of Wallonia is refusing to endorse the agreement amid concerns about a proposed investor court that could allow businesses to sue governments, as well as fears about the impact of the trade deal on agriculture.

All EU member states and a number of regional parliaments have signed off on the trade deal, but under Belgian law, the approval of all five regional parliaments in the country is necessary for the federal government to back Ceta.

Following Saturday’s meeting - the latest diplomatic effort to resolve the impasse - Mr Schulz said he saw “reason for optimism” about a positive conclusion to the situation “as soon as possible”.

“None of the stumbling blocks in the way of Ceta’s adoption by Belgium are insurmountable,” he said, adding that many of the concerns expressed by the Wallonian parliament are shared by European citizens.

Officials say that Monday is the last possible deadline for ratifying the deal, amid signs that Canada is becoming increasingly impatient with the delay.

The deepening crisis overshadowed a two-day summit of EU leaders which concluded on Friday.

Trade tariffs

Supporters of the deal say that Ceta will remove more than 98 per cent of tariffs on trade between the EU and Canada, and will lead to better business opportunities for EU firms in Canada.

However, critics believe it will lead to lower environmental and food standards and serve the interests of big business rather than consumers.

The continuing controversy over Ceta has raised questions about the EU’s ability to strike trade agreements with third countries, particularly as a proposed EU-US trade deal known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership) is losing momentum.

Sinn Féin MEP Matt Carthy has urged the Government to drop its support for the agreement, and commended the parliament of Walloon for rejecting the “toxic deal.”.

“This is further evidence that Ceta and TTIP have no popular support and shows what can happen when even small nations or regions are given a democratic say on the issue,” he said.

“Ceta, like TTIP, is a bad deal which would have serious negative implications for Irish farmers, workers and consumers.”

Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Taoiseach Enda Kenny said that the State, as a small open economy, was strongly in favour of trade agreements and was well aware of the benefits of trade.

He described the EU-Canada trade deal as a “new-generation agreement that will remove tariffs between the EU and Canada”, adding that he was confident the impasse could be resolved over the coming days.