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EU-Canada trade deal: Belgium rejects EU 'ultimatum' to end objection to CETA

Investment protection has been one of the major sticking points in negotiations between Brussels and Wallonia over the Commercial Economic Trade Agreement (CETA). Photograph: (AFP)

WION Brussels, Belgium Oct 23, 2016, 09.03 PM (IST)

Dealing a fresh blow to a proposed EU-Canada trade deal, Belgium's Wallonia region on  Sunday rejected the European Union's ultimatum to end its objection to the agreement. 

The bloc had given the French-speaking region 24 hours to overcome opposition to the economic and trade agreement or it would cancel a summit to sign the pact. 

"The Commission has been working 24/7 to find a solution," EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmström tweeted on Sunday. "We now hope that Belgium will bring this matter to a successful close."

But in an embarrassment for the bloc, Wallonia region has refused to endorse the deal. Belgium has so far been the only member not to sign the Commercial Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).

Paul Magnette, the leader of the Wallonia region, told the Belga news agency that an "ultimatum is not compatible with the exercise of democratic rights". 

Investment protection has been one of the major sticking points in negotiations between Brussels and Wallonia. The European Union has provided several assurances to salvage the deal. 

However, anti-globalisation groups say the deal is a test model to push through an even more controversial EU-US trade agreement called TTIP. 

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 found some support for its position elsewhere in Europe. Greenpeace activists too supported Wallonia, saying the deal risked "corporate greed" and trampled on people's rights and health standards on both sides of the Atlantic.

The EU has indicated that it expected Prime Minister Charles Michel to come up with an answer on Monday or it will have to decide with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on "whether to maintain the summit".

(WION with inputs from agencies)

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