BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The premier of the Belgian region that is the main impediment to a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement advised on Wednesday postponing a summit next week to sign the deal and taking a few more months to fix outstanding issues.
Almost all 28 EU governments now back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would be the bloc’s first trade accord with a G7 country, but the Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia continues to oppose it.
The agreement is scheduled to be signed at an EU-Canada summit attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 27, but Walloon premier Paul Magnette said he would not be pressured into accepting it this week.
“I think it would be reasonable to postpone the summit to an unspecified date,” he told Belgian radio station La Premiere.
Magnette said discussions with Canadian officials had yielded some useful guarantees but not removed all concerns.
“There are lots of problems… This treaty affects the lives of 500 million Europeans and 35 million Canadians for years and years. There’s no urgency. We can take a few weeks, a few months to analyze the problems and overcome them.”
EU diplomats say discussions with Wallonia had to be wrapped up in a few days to allow the Oct. 27 summit to go ahead.
“Monday is probably the limit of politeness for confirming(that date),” one EU diplomat said.
Bulgaria is also dragging its heels, and the government in Sofia said on Wednesday it would not support the deal until it received irrevocable guarantees that all its citizens could travel to Canada without visas.
Canada has said it will introduce selective visa-free travel for Bulgarians next May, and that the arrangement should cover them all by the end of 2017.
Failure to strike a deal with such a like-minded country would call into question the EU’s ability to forge other deals, and offer a pointer to the difficulties Britain might face in seeking a new trade relationship with the EU after it leaves.
Wallonia’s key concern is over a planned investment court that would allow foreign companies to challenge countries over decisions affecting their investments.
Critics say the system gives multinationals the chance to dictate public policy.
Magnette said he had received assurances that governments would not have to compensate companies if they brought in new regulations, such as tightening environmental standards.
But he remained concerned about the system of arbitration courts, and questioned a special safeguard allowing Canada to restrict agricultural imports if necessary, a right Europe would not have.
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