Yesterday Belgium has become the centre point of discussion with the announcement that CETA, the trade agreement between the EU and Canada, is being postponed until next week. It seems that the regional parliament in Wallonia stopped its executive from granting permission to the federal government to support the trade agreement. Belgium cannot sign the agreement without the full support of its five regional parliaments. This, along with the objections of Romania and Bulgaria over visa rights in Canada, has caused CETA to come to a grinding halt.
So what is CETA?
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement is a proposed free-trade agreement between the European Union and Canada. It is designed to eliminate up to 98 per cent of all economic tariffs between the north American state and the EU. On paper, this seems like an amazing opportunity, but CETA has its critics. Those who oppose it claim that it compromises food safety regulations and infringes on consumer rights. The supporters of the agreement claim it will boost the EU economy by over 20 per cent and could bring in over 20 billion euros in the EU economy per year.
While it is expected for the deal to eventually go through, the question of visa rights for Romania and Bulgaria needs to be looked at in more detail. The Czech Republic had the same issue and this was resolved on 14 November 2013 when Canada lifted the requirement. Canada now needs to do the same with Romania and Bulgaria and the EU should be backing their proposal. It’s a small price to pay. There should be no such thing as second class member states.
And as for Belgium? Wallonia accounts for 55 per cent of the territory of Belgium, and a third of its population, and is determined to protect its agricultural and industrial sectors which could be exposed to cheaper Canadian imports. This will be a test of local parliament versus central government and it remains to be seen if the Belgian region will hold the key to opening a bigger trade door for both the EU and Canada. CETA will happen, but how it will happen is yet to be decided.