A Belgian regional parliament voted Friday against a trade deal that the European Union is on the verge of finalizing with Canada, the Belga news agency reported, raising questions over whether the country will be able to ratify the agreement.
The EU and Canada hope to sign the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on October 27, once the bloc's 28 member states have approved the move at a special meeting on Tuesday. CETA is seen as a precursor to a bigger, and highly controversial, agreement being negotiated with the United States.
But a majority of lawmakers in Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia approved a motion Friday calling on the regional executive not to grant the federal government the go-ahead.
At issue is "the entire philosophy of commercial exchanges for the next 20 to 30 years," Wallon Prime Minister Paul Magnette told the parliament, according to Belga.
The CETA talks had been shrouded in secrecy, he argued, while criticizing the deal for poor socio-economic and environmental standards and calling for further negotiations.
The full impact of the vote was not immediately clear. Belgium's federalist system could prevent the country from approving CETA at Tuesday's meeting of EU trade ministers in Luxembourg, which would bring the agreement to a halt.
On Thursday, a European Commission spokesman said that discussions were underway with EU member states to remove any hurdles ahead of Tuesday's talks.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau warned, meanwhile, that a failure to approve CETA would raise questions about the EU's ability to do business with the rest of the world.
EU and Canadian leaders argue that by abolishing tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers, the agreement will help to stimulate economic growth and create jobs.
Thursday, October 13, 2016 - 10:14