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Wallonia holds firm against CETA, Trudeau sets Monday as deadline to resolve impasse

Council of Canadians political director Brent Patterson on CTV National News last night supporting Wallonian opposition to CETA and highlighting the deal would have negative consequences for people and the environment.

Despite an intervention by European Parliament president Martin Schulz yesterday, Walloon minister-president Paul Magnette is holding firm on his refusal to agree to the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) signing ceremony this coming Thursday (October 27).

Magnette says, “I think it’s worth taking a little more time.”

As such, the deadline to resolve this impasse has been shifted from this past Friday, to this weekend, while one news report says that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has now set this Monday as his deadline. Another news report suggests the deadline could be as late as Wednesday, the day before the summit.

Canadian trade minister Chrystia Freeland was in Brussels yesterday meeting with Schulz, but has now returned to Canada saying that she hopes to be back in Brussels with Trudeau on Thursday for the signing of CETA. But that seems unlikely given the depth of Wallonia’s concerns about the deal.

The Associated Press reports, “Politicians in Wallonia argue the proposed deal would undermine labour, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local companies.”

BNN adds, “The Walloon government was awaiting new proposals from the European Commission, according to a source close to Magnette. They would need to be presented to the regional parliament, although no date had been set for this. Walloons have concerns about the threat of surging pork and beef imports from Canada and an independent court system to settle disputes between states and foreign investors, which critics fear hands power to multinationals. Once the core of the Belgian economy, Wallonia has seen coal mines shut and steel jobs disappear and distrusts globalization. Just last month, Caterpillar announced plans to close a plant there, cutting some 2,000 jobs.”

David Kleimann, a researcher at the European University Institute, has told CBC News the fate of Wallonia’s vocal and powerful farmers has been central to the region’s trade objections. Kleimann highlights, “The Walloons are having trouble [understanding] the investment protection provisions of the treaty, as well as the validity [of the] EU ban [on] hormone-treated beef.”

And from Belgium, Council of Canadians trade campaigner Sujata Dey tells us that beyond these issues, Wallonia is also concerned about the deal’s negative list on services (meaning it applies to every service unless otherwise stated thus raising concerns about privatization and the ability to remunicipalize a public service), the lack of protection from a flood of dairy imports, the lack of Belgian geographic indicators (that protect products that are deeply rooted in tradition, culture and geography), and says that the side declaration to the deal that was intended to assuage concerns is not legally-binding.

The Council of Canadians celebrates European opposition to CETA.

We have been highlighting that not only does Wallonia have the constitutional right to refuse to agree to CETA, but also that more than 3.5 million Europeans have signed a petition against CETA, that 320,000 people marched against CETA in cities across Germany last month, that 88 per cent of Austrians oppose CETA because it shifts power to transnational corporations, that 81 per cent of people in France said they believed CETA would undermine French standards protecting health, food quality, the environment and the climate, and that several other EU member state governments have concerns about CETA but were unwilling to block the deal.

Yesterday, Council of Canadians chairperson Maude Barlow stated, “There is no way to meet the demands of the millions in Europe opposed to CETA without opening the deal itself. Wallonia’s courageous stand will send our governments back to the drawing board, hopefully to think about a very different kind of trade agreement based on the values of sustainability and justice.”

The Council of Canadians is calling on Trudeau and Freeland to agree to postpone the October 27 signing ceremony and to a substantive renegotiation of the pact.