Belgian breakthrough paves the way for CETA signing

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A deal has been struck with the Belgian region of Wallonia that will allow the EU's new trade deal with Canada to go ahead as planned.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between the EU and Canada is set to be signed soon after a solution was found to a deadlock caused by one of Belgium's regional governments.

Belgian political leaders have been able to reach an agreement with the local government of Wallonia, a southern region with socialist leadership that had stood in opposition to the free trade agreement and had previously appeared likely to permanently derail the deal.

A signing ceremony to finalize CETA had been planned earlier this week, but had to be cancelled due to the stance taken by Wallonia. Ratification of CETA is contingent on the approval of all 28 EU member states, and Belgium was not able to provide the green light until the support of Wallonia had been earned.

The Belgian region, which is home to around 3.6 million people, had raised a number of objections to CETA, including a lack of safeguards on labor, environmental regulations and consumer standards, as well as the need for greater protection for Walloon farmers who might be adversely affected by new competition from Canadian imports.

To put some of these concerns to rest, an addendum addressing regional concerns over the rights of farmers and governments has been introduced, although it is not believed that the main body text of the CETA deal will be changed.

Although final approval from Canada and the other 27 European member states still needs to be confirmed, it is widely expected that CETA will now be signed imminently, paving the way for 98 per cent of trade tariffs between the EU and Canada to be abolished.

A spokeswoman for Canada's global affairs ministry said: "There remain additional steps before signing. 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."