International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development: EU-Canada Trade Deal Signed, Overcoming Hurdles in Belgium




November 3rd, 2016

Leaders from the EU and Canada signed the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) on Sunday, following several weeks of talks to win the required backing of all 28 EU member states.

The bilateral agreement aims to strengthen the economic relationship between the two transatlantic trading powers, such as by reducing barriers to trade and investment; improving public procurement market access; establishing transparent, predictable conditions for cooperation; and protecting commonly held values.

European Council President Donald Tusk, Slovakian Prime Minister Robert Fico, currently holding the rotating EU Council presidency, and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker joined Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in signing the pact at the 16th EU-Canada Summit, held 30 October in Brussels.

The summit had initially been scheduled for earlier in the week, but the initial failure to reach consensus among Belgian regional authorities meant that the Canadian premier’s flight was postponed. (See Bridges Weekly, 27 October 2016)

On Thursday, Belgian approval was eventually confirmed after a compromise was reached addressing concerns raised by the region of Wallonia, a region of 3.6 million people which had led the opposition to signing on to the agreement.

Walloon officials had reportedly hesitated to make their agricultural sector more open to Canadian competition and expressed doubts over the proposed Investment Court System that would be enacted in CETA, which would replace the previous investor-state dispute settlement system that has become an increasingly common feature in free trade deals and bilateral investment treaties since the 1960s.

Belgium pledged to put the new arbitration system in front of the European Court of Justice to ensure that it is in line with EU law.

A joint interpretive instrument was issued to further assuage Walloon concerns, providing a binding interpretation of certain CETA provisions, including on investment protections and the right to regulate, as well as on labour and environmental protection.

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