The European Union’s hopes of signing a landmark free trade deal with Canada this week appeared to evaporate on Monday as the Belgian federal government failed to win the consent of French-speaking regional authorities.
European Council President Donald Tusk had given Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel until Monday, three days before the planned signing, to resolve the impasse. But a meeting Michel hosted with leaders of the five sub-federal authorities whose permission he needs to go ahead ended in stalemate.
Tusk is now expected to contact Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and call off an EU-Canada summit that was scheduled for Thursday in Brussels, although all sides insist that the CETA pact, seven years in the making, remains in everyone’s interest.
Dealing what campaigners say is the final “death blow” to the pro-corporate Canada-European Union trade deal, negotiations collapsed on Friday after representatives from the Belgian region of Wallonia refused to agree to a deal that continues ignore democracy in favor of multi-national corporations.
Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland reportedly walked out of talks with the Wallonia delegation, which had ruled to maintain their veto against the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) after the parties reached a stalemate over the controversial Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) system.
Wallonia president Paul Magnette had told reporters Thursday that the delegation had particular concerns over “matters affecting U.S. companies in Canada which will benefit from the system.”
Friday’s talks were held as a last-ditch effort to save the trade deal. After they fell apart, an emotional Freeland told reporters, “I’ve worked very, very hard, but I think it’s impossible,” referring to the impasse. “It’s become evident for me, for Canada, that the European Union isn’t capable now to have an international treaty even with a country that has very European values like Canada.”
And while many were happily toasting Magnette and the Wallonia delegation, critics of the deal also emphasized the growing movement against these anti-democratic agreements that helped lead to CETA’s downfall.
“This major setback for CETA is not just because of Wallonia alone,” said Maude Barlow, national chairperson of the Council of Canadians. “There is deep, widespread opposition to CETA and many millions of people agree with Wallonia’s stance.”
“Thousands across Europe and Canada spoke up and took action to make this happen,” added Barlow, who is currently in Germany campaigning against CETA. “This collapse of attempts to reach a deal on CETA shows governments should listen to people instead of trying to push these deals through against the wishes of the people they’re elected to represent.”
As Dearn further explained, “Since talks first started on CETA back in 2009, the deal has sat alongside TTIP [referring to the U.S.-E.U. agreement] as an example of how not to do a trade deal—absolute secrecy, zero input from public interest groups, and sheer contempt for the very valid concerns of people across Europe.”
Speaking from the negotiations in Belgium, Sujata Dey, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians, agreed. “It’s time to take a long hard look at CETA and what this breakdown means for corporate-led globalization, including for other controversial deals like the [12-nation TPP].”
“It’s time for a fundamental shift toward international agreements that put people and the planet before corporate profits,” she added. “That’s the message from Europe today.”
The issue goes beyond just a trade deal with Canada, the EU’s 12th-largest trading partner.
If CETA fails, the EU’s hopes of completing similar deals with the United States or Japan would be in tatters, undermining a bloc already battered by Britain’s vote to leave it and disputes over Europe’s migration crisis.