The proposed trade deal between the EU and Canada is on the brink of collapse following objections from Wallonia, Belgium’s French-speaking region.
The Ceta, or comprehensive economic and trade agreement, has been in the pipeline for seven years, with the 27 other members prepared to sign.
However, Wallonia, home to 3.6m people, reportedly wants stronger safeguards on labour, environmental and consumer standards.
Paul Magnette, the leader of the Wallonia region, warned that the deal would be bad for Europe’s farmers, handing too much power to global corporate interests.
Sebastian Dullien, a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations, criticised the commission for its role in the failure of the negotiations.
“The European Commission carries part of the blame because it didn’t quickly seek a dialogue with doubters,” he said. “And for this type of deal, you need a large consensus.”
In fact, the deal, like the shelved TTIP, which sought to create a trans-Atlantic free trade agreement, was negotiated almost entirely behind closed doors.
On Sunday, the European Commission’s attempts to clarify the mechanism for settling disputes with investors, a key sticking point, failed to satisfy Walloon politicians.
They, like many of Ceta and TTIP’s critics, say the deal threatens product standards and protects big business, even allowing corporations to sue governments for potential lost earnings.
Ceta’s supporters, on the other hand, argue that the agreement would eliminate 98 per cent of tariffs between the EU and Canada, boosting trade by 20 per cent.
Philippe Binard, general delegate for Freshfel Europe, said he remained confident that the deal would still eventually go through.
“The FTA will probably be ratified soon and opposition from Wallonia lifted, bearing in mind that most of the concerns raised were already addressed in the final negotiation and incorporated in the final deal,” he said.
“In recent weeks, fresh produce exports to Canada experienced new SPS (sanitary and phytosanitary) barriers,” he added. “The new agreement would provide a better environment to settle these kinds of SPS difficulties. In fruit and vegetables, we will most probably have new opportunities to explore under the FTA.”