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EU sets Belgium Monday deadline to back Canada trade deal
[BRUSSELS] The European Union has given Belgium until late on Monday to overcome opposition to a free trade deal with Canada from its French-speaking region or a summit to sign the pact that could boost both economies is off, EU sources said on Sunday.
EU trade negotiators are rushing to assuage the Walloon government's concerns before the Monday deadline set by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to decide whether to fly to Brussels, according sources familiar with the matter.
Canada says it is ready to sign the pact as planned on Thursday and year-long negotiations were over, with trade minister Chrystia Freeland saying "the ball is in the EU court." All 28 EU governments support the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), but Belgium cannot give assent without backing from its five sub-federal administrations.
French-speaking Wallonia has steadfastly opposed it, saying the deal is bad for Europe's farmers and gives too much power to global corporate interests.
In a last ditch bid to secure Walloon backing, EU trade officials are offering to tweaks to a political declaration appended to the treaty, an EU source said.
Many EU leaders suspect the local government in Namur is using its devolved powers to play domestic politics. "This is first of all an inner-Belgian matter," an EU source said.
Walloon Socialist leader Elio Di Rupo, one of the most vocal opponents of the deal, cast doubt an agreement could be reached next week. "They took years to negotiate #CETA and we are refused a few weeks," Di Rupo, a former Belgian prime minister, tweeted on Sunday. "Will we reach a solution? All depends on the contents. If it doesn't change enough, we will maintain our opposition."