Emergency talks have taken place between the European Union and Canada in a last-ditch attempt to save a historic free-trade deal which has been over seven years in the making.
As Business Insider reported, CETA, a proposed free trade deal between Canada and the 28-nation bloc, was on the verge of collapsing on Friday afternoon after the Belgian region of Wallonia used its federal powers to block it.
European Parliament head Martin Schulz and Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland has held emergency talks with Wallonian parliament leader Paul Magnette, in an attempt to salvage the deal.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels immediately after the talks, Schulz said the meeting had been “constructive” — but problems on the “EU side” had yet to have been resolved.
If the deal did break down it would be a hammer-blow to the EU’s international reputation. Plus, it would cast serious doubt on the Union’s ability to forge international trade deals with any country, including post-Brexit Britain.
Cecilia Malmstrom, the EU’s trade commissioner, made this point earlier this week. If the EU “can’t make it [CETA] with Canada,” the Swedish politician said, “I’m not sure we can make it with the UK.”
Donald Tusk, the European Council president, added that failure to complete the EU-Canada deal would make striking post-Brexit trade deals with Britain near-impossible.
“If you are not able to convince people that trade agreements are in their interests … we will have no chance to build public support for free trade, and I am afraid that means that CETA could be our last free-trade agreement,” he said.
Clearly, it’s not just the EU’s trading relationship with Canada that’s on the line, but the 28-nation bloc’s future trading aspirations, including hopes of striking a free-trade deal with Britain once Brexit is formally completed.
That’s why Theresa May’s government and Brexit negotiators in Whitehall will be keeping a very close eye on developments in Brussels as Canada and EU officials attempt to thrash out a last-minute agreement.
Wallonia, a French-speaking region of around 3.6 million people, has a deeply-rooted socialist tradition. Its legislature blocked CETA over concerns that the deal granted too much power to multinational corporations.