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Wallonia destroys years of work

Europe
24.10.2016
By our dpa-correspondent and Europe Online    auf Facebook posten  Auf Twitter posten  
Q & A Is the EU-Canada free trade deal dead in the water?
Since Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia decided earlier this month not to back the EU-Canada free trade deal CETA, many questions about the future of CETA and the EU‘s ability to commit to other international trade deals have emerged.
GALLERY
Brussels (dpa) - The future of a landmark EU-Canada trade deal was hanging in the balance Monday, after days of last-ditch negotiations failed to resolve Belgian regional opposition to the deal.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) is designed to ease the flow of goods between Canada and EU member states, by removing tariffs and trade barriers. Proponents argue that this will boost growth and job-creation, but opponents fear that the deal could undermine European standards and give companies undue clout.

Does this spell the end for CETA?

This is unlikely to be the end of the road for CETA, which has the backing of all 28 national EU governments. The deal has been hailed as the best and the most advanced that the bloc has ever negotiated with a trading partner.

The European Commission signalled Monday that efforts would continue to broker an agreement, with a spokesman calling for "patience" to resolve the outstanding issues.

What are the chances of a breakthrough?

It is thought to be difficult, but not impossible. Walloon Prime Minister Paul Magnette, who heads the Belgian region at the forefront of the blockade, considers many objections to have been resolved in recent days. Written assurances have been issued that environmental and consumer standards will not be eroded, among other things. But a key bone of contention remains the use of special arbitration courts to settle disputes between companies and governments. Some of Wallonia‘s demands will require time to resolve.

Did anybody see this coming?

There were warnings, but nobody appears to have taken them seriously enough. The Walloon parliament had first opposed the deal back in April, its president Andre Antoine told broadcaster RTL on Monday.

But many officials within the EU have treated the issue as a domestic Belgian problem which Prime Minister Charles Michel was responsible for resolving, by winning over regional governments in the highly decentralized country.
Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, addresses the General Debate of the 71st Session of the United Nations General Assembly at UN headquarters in New York, New York, USA, 20 September 2016.

Is Belgium entirely to blame?

The commission and member states such as Germany are also pointing the finger at one another, following a decision in July to take the unusual step of giving national and regional European parliaments a say over the deal. The commission said it caved in to pressure from member states such as Germany, Austria and France to seek a wider mandate, in an attempt to counter vocal public opposition to free trade deals such as CETA.

German Minister for Economic Affairs Sigmar Gabriel, on the other hand, has accused the commission of preferring the "technocratic strong-arming of trade deals." He argues that Berlin and other capitals had merely responded to the "questions and criticism of their population."

Who is right?

Both the commission and member states probably share some of the blame for not taking seriously enough the public opposition to CETA - and its sister deal being negotiated with the United States, known as TTIP. But Gabriel has also been accused of playing a double game by advocating CETA while criticizing TTIP.

What, ultimately, is at stake?

Many fear that the EU will lose its credibility as a global trading partner. The argument is that, if a trade deal is not even possible with Canada - a closely aligned country that shares many EU values - who can the bloc ever reach agreement with? Besides TTIP, this could also be a concern when it comes to Britain‘s exit from the EU and efforts to redraft that trade relationship.

"Even if the blockage of the EU-Canada trade deal by the Walloon government is solved in the coming weeks, the damage is already done to EU trade policy," former EU trade spokesman and business consultant John Clancy said Monday.

"The events of the past few days raise profound questions about the EU‘s ability to fulfil one of its core functions: breaking down the barriers to help European companies do business internationally," he added.

 

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