Canada’s free trade deal with the European Union appears to hinge on whether one of Belgium’s regional parliaments drops its opposition.
If a meeting between EU trade ministers next week results in approval, a Brussels summit later in October will see Justin Trudeau and his EU counterparts sign the deal.
However, Belgium’s French-speaking Walloons are threatening to block the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA), which has been several years in the making.
A five-page addition, leaked to the press recently, was designed to summarize the content of the deal in simpler language, in the hope objectors would be convinced nothing sinister is being hidden.
Key Facts on CETA
- Canada-EU trade deal has been 7 years in the making.
- Would eliminate duties on thousands of products, covering 95 per cent of everything Canada sells to Europe.
- Would give Canada car manufacturers, plus beef and pork producers, significant access to EU markets.
- Initially faced fierce opposition in France and Germany.
- Opposed by one of Belgium’s four parliamentary houses.
- Romania has linked its support for deal directly to visa reciprocity.
- Formal signing of deal expected in October.
- ‘Brexit’ created further uncertainty due to Britain’s involvement in the deal.
International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has twice visited Belgium in attempts to win over the Walloons.
Representatives from Freeland’s office will be making regular trips to Belgium in the coming days and weeks to continue negotiations.
That Belgium is viewed as the main final hurdle is something of a victory for Canada.
It means objectors in Germany and France have been won over after sections of the deal were rewritten to their liking. There were also some serious objections from Austria.
The whole agreement was thrown into doubt by Britain’s vote to exit the EU – but policymakers seem happy to deal with the fallout as part of the ‘Brexit’ negotiations.
Canada also seems to have done enough to convince Romania and Bulgaria to support the deal.
Both had threatened to vote against it over an on-going wrangle over visa reciprocity.
Both Romanians and Bulgarians currently require a visa to enter Canada, and Canada says they do not meet requirements to be granted visa-free access.
A carefully-worded joint statement was the only outcome of a recent visa reciprocity meeting between Canada’s Immigration Minister, his European Union counterpart, and officials from Romania and Bulgaria.
Key Facts on Canada-EU Visa Reciprocity
- EU introduced rule in 2014 saying all countries with visa-free access must provide same privilege for all member states.
- Countries including Canada and US given two years to comply.
- Canada does not allow visa-free travel for Bulgarians or Romanians.
- Deadline expired on April 12, was extended to July 12.
- No agreement likely to mean Canadians will need visas to travel to Schengen area (not including UK and Ireland).
- Romanians using recent lifting of Mexican visa requirement as part of their argument.
The EU put in place a visa reciprocity rule more then two years ago, which said countries granted visa-free access to the bloc needed to give all EU members the same access in the other direction.
The dispute between the two sides remains unresolved, with Romania initially saying it would not vote in favour of CETA until visa-free access has been granted.
However, it appears the sides have reached a compromise, with Canada confident of the support of both countries, and focusing its efforts on Belgium.
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