Politics

Canada-EU trade summit Thursday will likely be postponed: top official

European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German radio on Tuesday that he did not expect a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada to be signed this week.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German radio CETA signing not likely this week

President of the European Parliament Martin Schulz, seen last week, expressed optimism a compromise could be reached with Wallonia representatives, but perhaps not immediately. (Alastair Grant/The Associated Press)

European Parliament President Martin Schulz told German radio on Tuesday that he did not expect a free trade deal between the European Union and Canada to be signed this week.

Belgium said on Monday it could not formally back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) — which needs the unanimous support of the 28 EU nations — because its French-speaking Wallonia region opposes it.

"I don't think that we'll get a solution this week," Schulz told Germany's Deutschlandfunk radio station. "That would seem to be very, very difficult to me."

He added that it would therefore be necessary to postpone an EU-Canada summit planned for Thursday.

Whether or not an agreement can be reached this week depends on the federal Belgian government reaching an agreement with Wallonia on Tuesday, Schulz said. He said he was "skeptical" about that but thought they would ultimately find a compromise.

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In a broadcast statement on Monday Schulz said he was optimistic about finding a solution: "There is not only still hope with CETA. We are on the way to finding a compromise and to finding a solution for questions raised by the Wallonians, which are questions raised by a lot of citizens all over Europe."

Walloon not "herald of anti-globalization"

Wallonia premier Paul Magnette said Tuesday that his Belgian region was not opposed to a planned EU-Canada free trade deal in itself, but that an arbitration scheme needed to be dropped and public services protected.
 
"Let's be clear, I'm not a herald of anti-globalization, I want a deal," Magnette told French daily Liberation in an interview published on Tuesday.
 
But he said a court system specifically created to resolve disputes between investors and governments could be exploited by big business to dictate public policy.
 
"I would prefer that this entity disappears pure and simple and that we rely on our courts," he said. "Or at the very least, if we want an arbitration court, it must provide equivalent guarantees to domestic ones."

Magnette referred to a mechanism known as Investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS), which allows foreign companies to challenge state interference, such as expropriation.
 
Typically, the lawsuit is brought before a panel of private arbitrators, its members appointed by the investor and state in dispute. The mechanism has been criticized because of lawsuits brought by companies against tighter rules on public health, environmental and labour standards.
 

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Magnette said Canada agreed with Wallonia on this issue. "In truth, it's a debate that is purely internal to the European Union," he said.

Magnette said Wallonia was ready to accept a legally binding amendment to CETA that would interpret provisions on arbitration courts, public services and environmental legislation, although it would have preferred a complete re-negotiation.

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