The European Union’s foreign trade chief acknowledged that member states will likely be unable to back a landmark trade deal with Canada as scheduled on Tuesday but she was optimistic the deal could still be signed next week.
EU Foreign Trade Commissioner Margot Malmstroem said objections from a Belgian region were still being worked on and said that “we are not really there yet and I don’t think we will land today. But there is still time.”
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is expected to fly over to sign the deal on Oct. 27. Malmstroem said that there was still time to overcome Belgian objections right up to “when the prime minister needs to book his tickets from Canada.”
The trade pact requires backing from all 28 member states, and Belgium can only back it if all of its regions do so.
The francophone southern region of Wallonia of 3.5 million again rejected the deal last week. EU and Belgian officials are now working on an interpretive text that goes with the agreement to pull them on board and save the deal between 500 million EU citizens and 35 million Canadians.
Wallonia fears that its farmers will be priced out of the market with cheap Canadian produce and that many of the labor standards they fought for will be obliterated.
Many Walloons also say it will be a precursor for a similar deal with the United States, the TTIP deal, which they fear will cut even further into their livelihoods and consumer and environmental standards.
Tuesday’s initial deadline for the so-called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement was slipping fast out of reach as Wallonia Minister President Paul Magnette raised last-minute objections. “We will need a few more days,” he said late Monday.
Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland told reporters in Ottawa said she remained “cautiously optimistic” about the deal. “But at this point the ball is very much in the European court.”
“We’re working hard with the Europeans … Everyone I talked to today said: `Hang on in there, we believe this is going to happen.”’
The deal is expected to yield billions in added trade through tariff cuts and other measures to lower barriers to commerce. At the same time, the EU says it will keep in place the strong safeguards on social, environmental and labor legislation which have given Europe some of the toughest standards in the world.
Malmstroem said she understood Canadian impatience.
“It is not easy. We are 28 and we have slow procedures. The Canadians have been very patient,” she said. “They have been very attentive to accommodate many of our concerns.”