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Belgium is not able to sign off on a landmark EU-Canada free trade deal after Wallonia and other regional administrations refused to give the federal government the go-ahead, Prime Minister Charles Michel said on Monday.
In an embarrassment for the 28-nation EU, Belgium has so far been the only member not to sign up to the CETA trade deal, blocked by French-speaking Wallonia, which has refused to endorse it.
“We are not in a position to sign CETA,” Michel said after brief talks with Belgium’s regional leaders in Brussels broke up without an accord despite a looming EU deadline of late Monday.
“The federal government, the German community and Flanders said ‘yes.’ Wallonia, the Brussels city government and the French community said ‘no’,'” he added.
Michel’s announcement came a day after the head of the Wallonia rejected a 24-hour ultimatum from the bloc to end its objection to the agreement.
The EU had warned that unless Belgium made its position clear by Monday evening, it would cancel a summit on Thursday to sign the accord with Ottawa.
Paul Magnette, the leader of the Wallonia region, told the Belga news agency on Sunday that an “ultimatum is not compatible with the exercise of democratic rights”.
Magnette hit out at the EU, despite efforts by the bloc to provide reassurances to his government over investment protection — one of the major sticking points in negotiations between Brussels and Wallonia.
One European diplomat said that the reassurances “responded to all of Mr Magnette’s concerns”.
Canada’s trade minister Chrystia Freeland flew home from Brussels Saturday saying the ball was in the EU’s court after talks on Friday failed to overcome the differences.
‘Stop bad trade treaties’
The CETA — or Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement — would link the EU market of 500 million people with the world’s tenth biggest economy.
The deal is opposed by anti-globalisation groups who say it is a test model to push through an even more controversial EU-US trade agreement called TTIP, talks on which have also stalled.
Sebastian Dullien, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, criticised the Commission for its role in the failure of negotiators to secure an agreement on the deal.
“The European Commission carries part of the blame because it didn’t quickly seek a dialogue with doubters. And for this type of deal, you need a large consensus,” he said.
Wallonia has some support for its position elsewhere in Europe.
On Saturday, 8,000 people, including young people, farmers, union leaders and entrepreneurs, joined a rally in Amsterdam in a show of solidarity, organisers said.
They held banners saying “Our world is not for sale” and “Stop these bad trade treaties”.
Wallonia has also enjoyed support from activist groups like Greenpeace which charged that the deal risked satisfying “corporate greed” and trampling on people’s rights and health standards on both sides of the Atlantic.