October 27, 2016 4:10 am
Updated: October 27, 2016 2:41 pm

CETA: Belgium agrees to back Canada-EU trade deal

WATCH ABOVE: In a last minute agreement, the European Union, Belgium and the region of Wallonia came to terms on the landmark CETA deal. Jeff Semple reports.

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OTTAWA – National and regional parliaments throughout Europe may get new powers over the controversial investor protection provisions of the free trade deal between Canada and the European Union.

The changes are contained in the agreement that was struck Thursday between Belgium and its holdout region of Wallonia, which was heralded as the breakthrough needed to finally allow the lucrative agreement to be signed in the coming days.

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Wallonia held a veto over the Belgium’s ability to support the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which needs the support of all 28 EU countries.

READ MORE: Justin Trudeau speaks with EU president to salvage troubled Canada-EU trade deal

Belgium said the agreement would pave the way for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come to Brussels soon to sign CETA – an event that had long been set for Thursday before the Walloon dispute forced its postponement.

But some analysts said the fix might only be temporary and the lucrative trade pact could still be doomed to fail at a later stage.

WATCH: Freeland ‘astonished’ NDP against CETA trade deal

In recent weeks, Wallonia – a tiny French-speaking region of 3.5 million people – took up the cause of opposing the investor-state dispute settlement mechanism – ISDS – and was supported by other European politicians and anti-trade activists.

Those groups were concerned that ISDS would give big companies the power to sue governments for creating regulations that affect their profits. They said that would undermine the ability of countries to regulate on the environment, labour and health.

The new Belgian agreement – which still needs the approval of the handful of Belgian regional parliaments as well as the 27 remaining EU countries – essentially gives Europe’s individual national and regional parliaments the ability to veto ISDS at a later date.

The agreement also calls for a review of the dispute settlement mechanism by the European Court of Justice.

Wallonia President Paul Magnette said his resistance yielded huge results.

READ MORE: Court may help EU sidestep future resistance to trade deals

“We always fought for treaties that reinforced the social and environmental standards, protect the public services and that there is no private arbitration” in dispute settlements, he said. “All this is achieved as of now.

“I am sorry for all the other Europeans we made wait and for our Canadian partners. But if we took a bit of time, what we achieved here is important, not only for Wallonia but for all Europeans.”

In a research note to clients, TD Economics said “uncertainty” still remains around CETA’s ultimate fate.

“Should a revised dispute system not be agreed in the coming years, CETA may still be undone (remember that it would only take one member state rejecting the revised dispute system to make the entire agreement null),” the memo said.

WATCH: Why is Wallonia against CETA?

Maude Barlow, the president of the Council of Canadians, said the “mishmash of strange compromises” still leaves the deal open to failure.

“This has a long, long way to go before it is real and no amount of ceremony with a formal-looking signing by our prime minister in Brussels can change this fact,” she said.

The deal will go through regional legislatures by Friday night and have to be vetted again by the other 27 EU states.

“We’re confident now that we will conclude everything by tomorrow and that we will be able to welcome prime minister Trudeau in Brussels in a couple of days,” Raoul Delcorde, Belgium’s ambassador to Canada, said Thursday.

“We understand that this has been nerve-breaking type of situation. And we really appreciate the understanding we have gotten from the Canadian side.”

Trudeau’s office was awaiting a call from EU President Donald Tusk’s office on Thursday with further details. Tusk said he would contact Trudeau “only once all procedures are finalized” for the European Union to sign deal.

“This is a positive development, but there is still work to do,” Alex Lawrence, a spokesman for International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland, said in an email.

“Canada has done its job. 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.”

with files from The Associated Press

© 2016 The Canadian Press

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