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Belgium still unable to sign off on CETA: PM

Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel gestures as he speaks during a press conference following a meeting of all federal entities on the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) in Brussels on October 24, 2016. (Photo by AFP)

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel has ruled out the possibility for Brussels to sign off on a trade deal between the European Union and Canada for the time being, saying his government has yet to handle opposition from regional authorities to the transcontinental agreement, known as CETA.

“We are not in a position to sign CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement),” Michel said Monday after he met with a number of Belgian regional leaders in Brussels.

The announcement came despite an EU deadline of late Monday which anticipated that Brussels would give a clear answer on its approach to the deal.

Michel said the main reason for Belgium’s opposition to CETA, at least at this stage, was the growing rejection of the deal in several main regional administrations of the country, including Wallonia in the south.

“The federal government, the German community and Flanders said 'yes.' Wallonia, the Brussels city government and the French community said 'no',” he said.

Following the Monday talks between regional leaders and the premier, Wallonia regional leader Paul Magnette said that he could not support the deal.

“Prime Minister told us that the head of the European Council Donald Tusk wanted an answer from us today, yes or no,” Magnette said, adding, “It is evident that in the current circumstances, we cannot give a 'yes' today.”

Michel said Brussels’ current objection to CETA would not mean that the deal was dead, adding that he and the government were still open to dialogue with leaders of the French-speaking community in Wallonia.

Protestors hold an anti-CETA banner during a demonstration against international trade agreements in Brussels, Belgium, on September 20, 2016. (Photo by AP)

EU’s ongoing talks with Canada on CETA, a broad agreement on facilitating trade between the two which has been in the making for the past years, have already triggered serious concerns in Europe, especially in the farming sector and small-size industries. Many say the deal and its larger twin agreement known as TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership), which the EU seeks to conclude with the United States, could undermine job security and environmental standards in Europe.

Trade ministers from the EU have approved CETA in general terms and the EU heads and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to sign the pact on October 27. However, Belgium’s opposition to the agreement could force Tusk to cancel the Thursday meeting.

Activists say the approval of CETA would be a prelude to TTIP. Washington had hoped it could finalize TTIP before President Barack Obama leaves office in January, but opposition across Europe has made it impossible to reach the deal.

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