Canada blasts 'incapable' EU as trade talks fail

AFP , Friday 21 Oct 2016

Canada blasted the European Union as incapable of signing international agreements, as talks to persuade the Belgian region of Wallonia to sign up to a huge trade deal broke down Friday.

Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian trade minister, appeared on the verge of tears after walking out of negotiations with the head of the French-speaking Belgian region on a deal that has been seven years in the making.

Her comments fed into warnings by EU leaders that amid rising anti-globalisation sentiment the 28-nation bloc may never be able to land any other deals including one with the United States.

"It seems obvious to me, to Canada, that the European Union is incapable now of having an international agreement, even with a country with such European values as Canada, and even with a country as kind and patient as Canada," Freeland said.

Stopping several times to compose herself after walking out of the negotiations in Namur, the capital of French-speaking Wallonia, Freeland added: "Canada is disappointed, me personally I'm very disappointed."

"I worked very, very hard, but I think it's impossible. We have decided to return home and I am very, very sad. It's really emotional for me. The only good thing for me is that tomorrow morning I will be with my three children," she added.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had planned to travel to Brussels next week to sign the deal but that visit looks almost certain to be called off.

Wallonia's socialist government chief Paul Magnette later told AFP the region needed more time but that there was still scope for an agreement.

"Democracy takes a little time, Magnette said. "I wasn't asking for months, but you can't carry out a parliamentary process in two days."

The Walloon parliament earlier this week refused to let the federal Belgian government approve the deal between Canada and the European Union, which needs to be backed by all 28 EU member states.

"I have the impression that the Walloon government has radicalised its position," said Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel who firmly backs the deal.

EU trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said she was still hopeful a deal could be reached.

"We have engaged wholeheartedly with Wallonia the last days. Truly sad talks have been halted. Still hope to find solution in order to sign CETA," the Swede said on Twitter.

A source at the European Commission told AFP the "Commission doesn't consider that this is the end of the process."

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada is opposed by anti-globalisation groups who say it is a test model to push through an even more controversial EU-US trade deal called TTIP, talks on which have also stalled.

There have been protests against both deals in several cities.

Magnette on Friday pointed in particular to a highly controversial investment protection scheme buried in the deal that has drawn the fury of activists, and which is also involved in TTIP.

The Walloon crisis has huge potential effects for the EU, with the bloc's president Donald Tusk warning on Thursday that it may never be able to make any other deals if it fails with Canada.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told a closing summit press conference earlier that he still hoped a deal would be finalised in a few days.

But In a sarcastic tone, Juncker said he is "astonished" that an EU-Vietnam trade deal met no opposition and "yet when we try to reach an agreement with Canada, the dictatorship of dictatorships, people say 'oh no, we're worried about human rights'."

CETA would link the EU market of 500 million people with the world's 10th biggest economy.

Wallonia enjoyed support from activist groups like Greenpeace which charged that the deal risked satisfying "corporate greed" and trampling on people's rights and health standards on both sides of the Atlantic.

The investor scheme that they loathe is supposed to protect investors who fear that local laws an violate a trade deal and threaten their investments. Opponents instead say it allows commercial interests to force governments to change laws.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday dismissed warnings that the EU-Canada deal raised serious questions about whether London could strike a similar agreement after Brexit.

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