International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland was sounding more hopeful about the future of the Canada-EU free trade deal after meeting Saturday morning with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in Brussels.
She said she was heading back to Canada but hoped to return with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sign the CETA accord — short for Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.
"The ball is in Europe's court and it's time for Europe to finish doing its job," she said.
It was a significant change in tone from Friday when Freeland walked away from talks on the verge of tears, saying the EU appeared incapable of signing the deal.
The Belgian region of Wallonia affirmed Saturday that it still stands in the way of the accord between Canada and the 28-nation European Union, but its president, Paul Magnette, and Schulz were both cautiously optimistic the standoff could be resolved within days.
After Saturday's separate talks with Freeland and Magnette, Schulz said he was hopeful a compromise could be found to clear the way for Thursday's planned EU-Canada summit.
"To my eyes, there is no problem we cannot resolve," he told reporters, while Magnette said "I think it's worth taking a little more time."
Politicians in Wallonia argue the proposed deal would undermine labour, environment and consumer standards and allow multinationals to crush local companies.
EU leaders have warned that failure to clinch the deal with Canada could ruin the bloc's credibility as a trade partner and make it more difficult to strike such agreements with the United States, Japan and other allies.
A European official with knowledge of Wallonia's demands said Wallonia had requested that Canada reopen a section that allows foreign investors to sue countries if decisions are taken that hurt their investments – a standard feature of Canadian trade and investor protection agreements with other nations.
Freeland said on Friday that the Canadian government has worked over the past year with all European countries where opposition has arisen to the deal, including Germany, Austria, Bulgaria and Romania. This included rewriting the investor-dispute mechanism to assuage concerns over a loss of sovereignty in settling legal challenges from big business.
The Walloons are also worried the deal could allow beef containing growth hormones to make inroads in Europe. The EU has advised its member states, however, that CETA would not affect restrictions on the import of beef with growth hormones.
The Canada-EU deal would eliminate duties on tens of thousands of products, covering more than 95 per cent of everything Canada now sells to Europe, and dismantle many non-tariff barriers to commerce. It would give Canada's auto assemblers and beef and pork producers significant access to EU markets.
With files from Steve Chase