Monday 31 October 2016

EU and Canada formally signed Ceta free trade deal


The EU and Canada officilally signed a free trade deal on Sunday that was almost derailed last week by objections from French-speaking Belgians , exposing the difficulties of securing agreement from 28 member states as Britain prepares for Brexit talks.

The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said there was no parallel between the deal struck with Canada and looming Brexit talks.

"I don't see any relation between what we are signing today and the Brexit issue," Juncker said, before greeting Canada's prime minister, Justin Trudeau, in Brussels

Trudeau and top EU officials signed the comprehensive economic and trade agreement, known as Ceta, paving the way for most import duties to be removed early next year. However, the treaty needs the approval of at least 38 national and regional parliaments, including the UK's, to take full force.

Trudeau was meant to fly to Brussels last Wednesday but he stayed at home when the Wallonia region raised objections that held up agreement until Thursday. Belgium's regional parliaments endorsed a compromise deal, which addressed concerns about competition for Wallonia's farmers from Canada, on Friday.

Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, who stood beside Trudeau at a news conference, said the delay was caused by Belgium's internal politics and that the deal would be far less contentious when it went before national parliaments.

Tusk said: "Fortunately we live in a democratic system and democracy is less predictable than other political systems but I still prefer democracy. My prediction is there is no huge problem with European parliaments. After my talks with all 28 member states' leaders, I have no doubt Ceta is the least controversial trade agreement you could imagine."

Liam Fox, the international trade secretary, apologised to MPs last week for not allowing a parliamentary debate on the trade deal. He said holding up the agreement would have made the UK unpopular with other EU members but also with Canada and that the deal was worth £1.3bn a year to Britain.

Fox said the UK parliament could still veto the deal and he warned that problems in agreeing Ceta showed the difficulty Britain could face in negotiating a trade agreement with the EU.



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