Belgium has reached an agreement with its regional parliaments to break a deadlock over an intercontinental free trade deal between the EU and Canada, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel announced on Thursday.
Belgium's nod to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would pave the way for the EU and Canada to go ahead with world's one of the most significant trade deals. The delay in striking the trade deal has raised doubts about the fate of other pacts the EU is negotiating with the US and Japan.
Prime Minister Michel told reporters that the heads of Belgium's Dutch and French-speaking regions had drawn up an addendum (an additional provision) to the trade deal to address their concerns about agricultural imports and a dispute settlement system.
In a tweet, he said all of Belgium's parliaments are now able to approve the agreement by Friday.
Belgian agreement on #CETA . All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada
— Charles Michel (@CharlesMichel) October 27, 2016
The addendum will still require Canada's approval as well as that of 27 other EU states that have already endorsed CETA.
The breakthrough comes after a signing ceremony for CETA which was due to be held on Thursday was cancelled after Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia vetoed the pact.
Belgium’s federal system requires its national government to get approval from all its regional parliaments before it inks the deal.
Wallonia, along with the capital Brussels and Belgium's grouping of French speakers, had opposed the deal for weeks, saying it will put too much power in the hands of multinational corporations which will be able to challenge government lawsuits over their failure to implement domestic standards.
The region also demanded greater protection for its farmers, who would have to face increased competition from Canadian imports.
Canada called the Belgium's announcement a "positive development". European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU leaders' summits, welcomed the “good news”. But both stopped short of declaring the CETA, a done deal.
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 27, 2016
Michel did not give details on Thursday on how Wallonia's concerns had been answered in the addendum. But the premier of the Flemish region, Geert Bourgeois, said the original 1,598-page text of the trade deal stood.
"This is a clarification, the actual treaty does not change," Bourgeois said.
The EU is already facing challenges amid Britain’s vote to exit from the bloc and ongoing refugee crisis triggered by wars and conflicts, particularly in the Middle East. In this context, a failure to sign a trade deal with Canada could put into question the EU’s ability to strike other deals and also damage its credibility.
Canada's trade minister Chrystia Freeland, who walked out of talks in Walloon capital Namur last Friday, had asked, if the EU could not do a deal with Canada, who could it do a deal with.