EU trade policy remains at risk despite Belgium support for EU-Canada deal

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Belgium has lifted its opposition to a trade deal between the European Union and Canada on Thursday, paving the way for national parliamentary approval across the bloc. However, this does not mean that concerns over Europe's trade policy have disappeared.

Charles Michel, the Belgian prime minister, said on Twitter: "Belgian agreement on CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement). All parliaments are now able to approve by tomorrow at midnight. Important step for EU and Canada."

Canada's trade ministry applauded the news as a "positive development" but added that there was still work to do.

"Canada has done its job," it said in a statement.

"We negotiated a progressive agreement that will create jobs and growth for the middle class. Canada ‎remains ready to sign this important agreement when Europe is ready.‎‎The trade partnership, which have been negotiated for seven years, nearly collapsed after the Belgian region of Wallonia voiced concerns over CETA's impact on the agricultural sector and welfare standards."

Such opposition was preventing individual EU parliaments from giving the green light to the deal. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada even cancelled a trip to Brussels this Thursday on fears that the deal would no longer be signed.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March 31, 2016 in Washington, DC.
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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau speaks at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, March 31, 2016 in Washington, DC.

Fredrik Erixon, director of the European Center for International Political Economy, told CNBC on Thursday that it was not known what conditions and concessions were secured by the Belgian government to get Wallonia's approval.

Nonetheless, the potential collapse of CETA questioned the EU's ability to carry out any commercial partnerships, including with the U.S. Chrystia Freeland, the Canadian minister for trade, said last week that the EU was "not capable" of signing a trade deal and that her country was "disappointed."

"It seems evident for me and for Canada that the European Union is not now capable of having an international accord even with a country that has values as European as Canada," Freeland said.

The impasse over CETA is "just an example of what's to come," Erixon said. "I don't think anyone expects things to get easier," he added.

CETA is set to cut 98 percent of custom duties since day one of its application, and save EU exporters nearly $550 million, according to data from the European Commission

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