EU nations have approved a landmark free-trade deal with Canada, clearing the way for its signing after a drama that saw Belgian regions threaten to torpedo years of negotiations. “Mission accomplished!” European Union president Donald Tusk on Saturday tweeted, announcing that the deal would be signed at a summit in Brussels on Sunday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. The Canadian premier wrote back on Twitter: “Great news and I’m looking forward to being there.”
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Trudeau also tweeted applause for Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s trade minister. “My thanks to @cafreeland for her skill & dedication in negotiating a deal to grow Canada’s middle class & strengthen our economy. #CETA”. Just days ago the CETA deal — the most ambitious negotiated by the EU — had been hanging by a thread due to protests from Belgium’s Wallonia region and other French-speaking communities over its potential damage to local interests.
The trade agreement requires all 28 EU member states to endorse it and in some cases — as in Belgium — regional governments also have to give their approval, meaning Wallonia and the other holdouts were effectively blocking the deal. Trudeau had been due to arrive in Brussels on Thursday to sign the deal but that had to be called off, with leaders including Tusk warning that the debacle was further damaging EU credibility following Britain’s shock vote to leave the bloc.
Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel held marathon talks in a bid to win the holdout regions over, finally announcing Thursday that the two sides had reached a deal. Belgium became a lightning rod for warnings that the EU’s international standing, hit by a migration crisis as well as the Brexit vote, would suffer further if seven years of trade negotiations were to go to waste.
After hitting deadlock in talks with Walloon leaders last week, an emotional Freeland dismissed Brussels as “incapable” of achieving an international agreement. Paul Magnette, the chief of government of the southern French-speaking Wallonia, had fought for Wallonia’s farming interests and guarantees against international investors forcing governments to change laws against the wishes of the people.