By Santiago Losada
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union is now facing opposition from Wallonia, the French-speaking region of Belgium. According to The New York Times, the European Union gave Belgium’s federal government an ultimatum to secure backing for CETA, otherwise a summit to sign the deal will be postponed.
Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, was still hopeful that a trade deal between the European Union and Canada is still possible. Mr. Tusk has spoken with Prime Minister Charles Michel of Belgium to persuade him to do more to secure the deal. The Wall Street Journal reports that although the possible postponement of the signing ceremony does not necessarily mean the end of the trade deal, it does exemplify the critical differences the EU faces when it comes to ambitious economic trade deals. Anti-globalization groups see Wallonia’s opposition as a win for them because they believe it will help raise Europe’s welfare and environmental standards. In order for CETA to pass, the approval of all 28 member states of the EU is required. Although the Belgian federal government supports the trade deal, it still needs the go-ahead from Belgium’s five regional governments before it can officially approve the deal. The Canadian rade Minister, Chrystia Freeland, said the “ball is now in Europe’s court, and Europe must do its job.” Canada has so far aggressively pursued the trade deal with the European Union to boost the country’s sluggish outlook on growth at a time when the Canadian economy has been hit with a commodity price drop.
Negotiating trade deals means surrendering a little sovereignty. Wallonia policymakers, reports The Economist, are especially opposed to the new deal because they suspect that new courts established by the treaty to settle investor disputes with governments will favor corporation over regulators. There is also a worry about how cheap Canadian competition will affect Wallonian subsidized farmers, as well as concern that CETA would give more power to multinationals.
A report from the BBC states that if CETA were to pass, 98 percent of tariffs that are currently in place between Canada and the EU would be eliminated. Supporters of the deal say this would increase trade by about 20 percent. Critics, however, say the deal would lower product standards and protect big businesses by giving corporations the right to sue governments.
The opposition of Wallonia has gained support in other parts of Europe. In Amsterdam, 8,000 people, including youth, farmers, union leaders, and entrepreneurs showed solidarity in a rally. The Guardian reports that environmental activist groups such as Greenpeace believe that the deal only serves to satisfy corporate greed and that it would be a bad investment for both sides of the Atlantic.
Some have warned that difficulties in securing CETA would hinder the European Union from striking other trade deals with the United States, Japan, China, and India. Prime Minister Theresa May of the United Kingdom recently dismissed warnings that the roadblocks against CETA raised serious questions on whether her government would be able to strike a similar agreement with the EU bloc after Brexit.