Regional legislators in Belgium’s French-speaking region of Wallonia are expected to pass a resolution on Friday that could jeopardize plans for wrapping up the Canada-European Union free-trade deal and the area’s political leaders now find themselves the target of a full-court press by European and Canadian leaders urging them to stand down.
In politically decentralized Belgium, regional governments have sufficient power that the federal government needs a green light from them in order to endorse international accords such as the Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) negotiated by Canada and the 27-member European Union.
A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Walloon government will probably feel compelled to respect the will of its parliament and refuse to support the Belgian central government approving the signing of CETA when EU member states meet next week to vote on the matter. The decision at the EU is on a consensus basis, which means that all member states must agree to proceed.
A failure to resolve this could disrupt Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plans to sign the deal with EU officials in Europe on Oct. 27.
A push is on to persuade the Walloons not to block the signing of CETA. French President François Hollande will receive Wallonia’s Minister-President, Paul Magnette, in Paris on Friday.
Canadian envoy David Lametti, Parliamentary Secretary to the International Trade Minister, was in the Walloon region on Thursday talking to local leaders and trying to persuade them to not prevent the passage of CETA.
“At the highest level in different capitals, including the president of the European Union Commission, they all are trying to convince the Walloon government to take into account the situation and not to say ‘No,’ ” a European official said.
European Union officials, shaken by Britain’s vote in June to quit the EU, are eager to conclude and enact the free-trade deal in order to demonstrate that the political-economic union is still moving forward as a viable bloc.
At a joint news conference in Ottawa on Thursday, Mr. Trudeau and French Prime Minister Manuel Valls both urged European countries to back the Canada-EU deal.
They agreed that the current situation is a major test for the European Union, with Mr. Trudeau portraying the deal as a progressive one that helps to protect workers and the environment.
“In a world that is increasingly scared and divided, I think this is a symbol of countries that share values and approaches, and that are coming together,” he said. “In a post-Brexit environment where there are many questions about the usefulness of Europe, if Europe does not find a way to sign this deal, it will be a clear message not just to Europeans but to the world that Europe is engaged in a path that is not useful for its citizens and the world. It would be really disappointing.”
The EU and Canada have already taken steps to assuage Wallonia’s concerns, penning a “joint interpretative declaration” that is sometimes produced to accompany trade agreements because it provides plain-language assurances to voters about the commitments undertaken in a deal. The joint statement has been leaked even though it is still in draft stage, but the language addressed one reported beef among Walloons: the role of a new court to handle investor-state disputes.
A European official said Walloon legislators remain convinced that CETA will be bad for their region, and that it was negotiated with big businesses in mind rather than the small- and medium-sized enterprises, or farmers, in the Walloon region.
Mr. Valls said France will try to convince the Walloons that the deal is a good one for Canada and the EU.
“We live in an open world and it would be inconceivable that the European Union would be unable to engage in a beneficial agreement with Canada. Because if the European Union does not engage in a positive deal with Canada, with whom would the European Union be able to build such free-trade deals?” he asked.
With a report from Daniel LeblancReport Typo/Error
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