Delayed EU-Canada free trade deal signed

A controversial and much-delayed free trade deal between the European Union and Canada has finally been signed in Brussels.

The deal, known as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), is seven years in the making but was almost entirely derailed last week after a regional government in Belgium refused to endorse the agreement.

Work on the pact was launched in 2009 and the text was actually finalised two years ago but sat in limbo awaiting endorsement.


Canada-EU trade deal
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Why a Belgian region blocked the EU-Canada trade deal

EU rules require unanimity among all 28 member states before trade deals can be signed.

For some member states, like Belgium, which has a federal government, that requires regional unanimity too. 

The French-speaking Belgian region of Wallonia blocked the deal and demanded stronger safeguards on environmental, labour and consumer standards amid concerns its farmers would face new competition from Canadian imports. 

“What patience,” exclaimed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as he embraced Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at EU headquarters in Brussels on Sunday.


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In a brief exchange in French, Mr Trudeau told Mr Juncker “difficult things are difficult, but we were able to succeed”.

Mr Trudeau and Mr Juncker signed the pact with European Council President Donald Tusk and Slovakia’s Prime Minister Robert Fico, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency.

Mr Tusk tweeted : “Free trade and globalisation have protected humanity from poverty, hunger and total conflict.”

He added: “We need to explain better the real effects of free trade. Protectionism means a return to national egoisms, and threat of violent conflict.”

Around 250 anti-CETA protesters gathered to block the front entrance of the building as the deal was signed, watched on by riot police.

Red paint was smeared on the building and some demonstrators reportedly managed to get in.

Police took away 16 people, but did not break up the protest.

The EU says CETA will remove more than 99% of tariffs and boost trade with Canada by €12bn a year, creating economic growth and jobs on both sides of the Atlantic.

It insists the deal will not prevent governments from moving to protect environmental and social standards if they believe action is needed, despite concerns big companies would have free rein.


Demonstrators with red paint sit in front of the European Council building during a protest against CETA
Image Caption:
A demonstration outside the European Council building against CETA

“This is an important day for the EU and Canada too, because we are setting international standards which will have to be followed by others with whom we are in negotiations as far as free trade is concerned,” said Mr Juncker.

There has been little progress on a similar pact with the US, dubbed TTIP.

The delays raise troubling questions for the trade talks Britain will need to have with its 27 EU partners once it leaves the bloc.

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