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Belgium holds back EU-Canada trade deal

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Belgium holds back EU-Canada trade deal

Malmstroem - Reynders - Photo EU Council

(LUXEMBOURG) - An agreement on a trade deal between the European Union and Canada was held up Tuesday when Belgium prevented unanimous agreement by EU ministers on its ratification.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will remove more than 99% of tariffs that are currently imposed on trade between the EU and Canada.

CETA includes provisions on market access for goods, services, investment and government procurement, as well as on intellectual property rights, sanitary and phytosanitary measures, sustainable development, regulatory cooperation, mutual recognition, trade facilitation, cooperation on raw materials, dispute settlement and technical barriers to trade.

However, there has been much public disquiet over the deal, with concerns voiced by trade unions and NGOs, including Greenpeace, that the deal would weaken consumer rights in Europe, including those concerning food safety.

It has also been criticised as being of great benefit to big business and multinational corporations, while risking unemployment, and environmental damage impacting individual citizens.

The credibility of EU policy is also being called into question, and whether the Commission is capable of negotiating such major trade deals on behalf of EU Member States.

Slovak Economy Minister Peter Ziga, for the EU presidency, was keen to underline the benefits: "CETA is about new opportunities in the global era, while respecting European standards", he said. "It is a modern, balanced and most ambitious agreement to date. It will remove 99 per cent of tariffs and it is good for European business and for jobs in Europe and in Canada."

He said he was confident that they could find a solution to Belgian concerns, also to reservations of Bulgaria and Romania on visa liberalisation.

Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem confirmed the EU executive and presidency would make every effort to have the agreement ready for signing next week. There would now be an "interpretative declaration" attached to the CETA agreement with legal value, which would explain the need and benefits of CETA.

"The intention is to highlight the best of CETA", she said, "in a plain language for citizens who have voiced some concerns, reassuring that there is nothing in CETA forcing Europe to lower standards, that they are incorporating sustainable development issues, that they know nothing in CETA will force any entity at any level to privatise public services."

On the contrary, she said, CETA "is an agreement that will have economic benefits from day one when it comes to public procurement, lowering tariffs, access to services, acknowledging more than 150 European geographical indications."

If Belgian concerns can be sorted out, the European Council will make a final decision, after which the European Parliament would vote around Christmas, and a provisional deal could provisionally enter into force early next year, following which a long process of ratification would get under way.

However the decision goes, Ms Malmstroem was clear that there was a need for a discussion on how the EU goes about trade agreements in the future, so that each trade agreement doesn't drag on for years, to ensure that it is "a good and useful tool for consumers, for our economies, for investment, for our jobs".

Main results of Foreign Affairs Council, 18-10-2016

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