Wallonia’s Magnette wants more concessions over Canada trade
Walloon Minister-President Paul Magnette said late Thursday that he wanted additional guarantees before he would be willing to support a landmark trade agreement between the EU and Canada.
Opposition from the French-speaking southern region of Belgium has emerged as the most lethal threat to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Ottawa.
Earlier Thursday evening, diplomats had expressed hopes that they would be able to broker a compromise at a meeting of ambassadors from the 28 member countries to lock down legal safeguards on seven areas of concern, over which Magnette was effectively threatening to scupper the entire accord.
Magnette, however, insisted that a text submitted to him earlier in the day did not go far enough in allaying Walloon concerns.
However, the Socialist leader stopped short of declaring the deal dead, saying that diplomatic efforts to improve the text would continue Friday.
“There are improvements, but the text is clearly still not sufficient,” he was quoted as saying by the Belga news agency.
“For the Canadians, there is still room to negotiate, in contrast to the European position. We will meet the [Canadian trade] minister [Chrystia Freeland] and her negotiator tomorrow first thing to examine with them where it is still possible to find room for discussion and to improve the texts that were submitted to us this Thursday,” he added, according to La Libre and RTBF.
According to a draft of the European Commission’s declaration, seen by POLITICO, there were seven areas of concern that Wallonia was seeking to allay.
The Commission reassured Wallonia that CETA would not force the region to import hormone-treated beef and would not reduce environmental and employment standards in public procurement contracts. Brussels also offered guarantees over state insurance schemes, public services, genetically modified foods and other agricultural concerns.
It also sought to calm Walloon fears that CETA could be used as a “Trojan horse” by U.S. companies to sue European governments in investment disputes. The Commission declaration said companies could only take action if they had “an effective and continuous link with the Canadian economy”.
Before Magnette spoke, European Council President Donald Tusk reckoned a deal was possible.
“I hope Belgium will once again prove that it is a true champion in compromise-making and that on Friday we will have an agreement that will pave the way for signing CETA.”
Tusk also stressed that the difficulties were profound.
“The problem goes beyond CETA,” he said. “If you are not able to convince people that trade agreements are in their interests … we will have no chance to build public support for free trade, and I am afraid that means that CETA could be our last free trade agreement.”