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One step closer to a deal: Here are Belgium’s conditions for signing CETA

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Le premier ministre belge, Charles Michel.

Financial Post | 27 October 2016

One step closer to a deal: Here are Belgium’s conditions for signing CETA

After doubt was cast on Europe’s ability to negotiate a free trade deal with Canada, the tides turned Thursday as Belgium came to an internal consensus on conditions for signing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Canada.

That doesn’t mean the deal is done, just yet. The 27 other states in the European Union will need to meet and green-light Belgium’s asks.

They include, among other things, a request to have the European Court of Justice assess the investment court system nested in CETA — and an assertion that Belgium won’t ratify the deal if investor-state dispute mechanisms remain as is.

The Belgian declaration would likely stand as its own document, in addition to a common statement on how EU countries intend to interpret CETA.

A signing ceremony Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was supposed to attend was cancelled Thursday as squabbling continued over a vocal Belgian region’s blocking of the deal.

Wallonia’s prime minister, Paul Magnette, met with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and the leaders of Belgium’s other regional governments. Magnette said Thursday he was “extremely happy” that their demands were met.

Once its parliaments vote on the declaration the leaders produced — and approve it — Belgium will be ready to bring that declaration to the EU. Votes were scheduled for late afternoon, Brussels time, according to Belgian reports, with a deadline of midnight Friday.

Ambassadors from the EU’s 27 other states were also meeting Thursday to hammer out whether they could accept Belgium’s terms.

If they can, then the 28 can meet and formally agree to sign CETA — barring any last-minute interventions from other states.

The 27, after all, haven’t formally signed yet either. As recently as last week, Bulgaria was still threatening to veto the trade agreement if Canada didn’t guarantee visa-free access for their citizens. But its government formally OKed CETA Tuesday, with a view to addressing any remaining concerns during the ratification process.

EU leadership seemed optimistic. European Council president Donald Tusk said in a tweet Thursday the news of Belgium’s accord was excellent, and he would contact Trudeau “only once all procedures are finalised for EU signing CETA.”

A press release Wednesday evening from the office of Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada remained “ready to sign this important agreement when Europe is ready.”

Once the deal is signed, the next step is ratification from the European Parliament, which includes members from all 28 states. According to a briefing from Canadian officials earlier this year, 90 per cent of CETA can then go into effect, provisionally, until each member state goes through their individual ratification process.

Here are the key points from the Belgian declaration:

  • Regional parliaments must ratify CETA, not just federal parliaments.
  • Europe must produce regular evaluations of the socioeconomic and environmental effects of CETA’s provisional application.
  • If one of the “federal entities” within Belgium — such as the regional government of Wallonia — says it intends not to ratify CETA, then the federal government must notify the European Council, within a year, that it will be “permanently impossible” for Belgium to ratify the agreement.
  • The provisional application of CETA must not include investment protection and dispute settlement mechanisms. Also, each party to CETA has the right to stop its provisional application.
  • Belgium will ask the European Court of Justice to assess the “investment court” provisions within CETA and decide whether or not they are compatible with the European treaty system.
  • Unless parliaments decide otherwise, the regions inside Belgium will not ratify CETA if the investor-state dispute settlement mechanisms currently in the deal are not changed in accordance with the review from the European Court of Justice. Other parties to CETA also reserve the right to withhold ratification for this or other issues.
  • The regions inside Belgium agree to consult their parliaments on co-operation with EU regulatory decisions.
  • Regions with agricultural producers reserve the right to activate safeguards if they believe there will be a “market disequilibrium” resulting from CETA, as long as concerns are attached to a specific product. They agree to determine where they anticipate imbalances within 12 months of signing the deal.
  • Belgium reaffirms that CETA won’t affect GMO legislation or regulations in Europe, and the ability of member states to restrict or forbid GMOs on their territory.•

Read the declaration (French)

 source: Financial Post