CETA talks hinge on Belgian compromise

October 31, 2016: The European Union and Canada signed the CETA free trade agreement on Sunday after agreement was reached with the Belgian region of Wallonia, which had opposed the deal and effectively blocked Belgium from signing it. The EU requires all 28 member states to support the treaty before it comes into force. 

If fully implemented, the CETA would lead to the creation of a new, exclusive "trade court” which would replace the existing investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) system. This new system has been criticised by legal experts because it retains many of the key features of ISDS. The  last minute ‘compromise’  recognises this by allowing Belgium to go to the European court of justice to determine whether the new tribunals are compatible with EU law.

Another concession gained by Wallonia is a ‘general safeguard clause’ allowing regional entities to withdraw their country from the CETA, and there is additional protection for farmers who are hurt by Canadian competition.

Opposition to the deal continues. UN human rights expert Alfred de Zayas said the CETA is a "corporate-driven, fundamentally flawed treaty” and called for a referendum in each country concerned.

 “The danger of CETA and TTIP being signed and one day entering into force is so serious that every stakeholder, especially parliamentarians from EU Member States, should now be given the opportunity to articulate the pros and cons.  The corporate-driven agenda gravely endangers labour, health and other social legislation, and there is no justification to fast-track it” Mr. de Zayas said. 

Although the agreement has been signed it must still be ratified by around 40 national and regional parliaments in Europe before it is fully entered into force.