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Juncker hopes for breakthrough for EU-Canada trade deal
[STRASBOURG] European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said he looked to Belgium on Wednesday to overcome internal disputes and seal a landmark EU-Canada trade deal.
Belgium's federal and regional leaders meanwhile held a short new round of talks in Brussels in a bid to break the deadlock on the eve of a still hoped-for signing summit with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.
"I trust that an agreement will be reached in the course of today with Belgium, Wallonia and other parts of the country," Mr Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
In the last few days, there has been a range of talks aimed at winning over the Wallonia region, which has prevented Belgium from supporting the agreement and effectively blocked a deal that must be endorsed by all 28 EU member state governments.
The talks have involved Belgian political leaders at all levels as well as European Union officials.
"I do not know if we will be able to sign the agreement with Canada tomorrow," Mr Juncker said, suggesting there could be more time allowed.
"What matters, is for the agreement to be reached today so that the kingdom of Belgium can sign the agreement at the appropriate moment," he added.
Donald Tusk, the European Council president who would host the summit, said he hoped that Belgium will be a "consensus-building champion" and that the trade agreement can be finalised soon, with Thursday's summit "still possible."
Mr Tusk warned that the EU would undermine its global standing "if we cannot make the case for free trade with a country like Canada, the most European country outside Europe and a close friend and ally."
Some two hours of Belgium negotiations broke up without an apparent agreement early Wednesday, following six hours of similar talks the previous evening.
The European Commission, the EU executive, and the European Council, which groups the member states, are pushing hard for the landmark deal with Canada known as the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA).
The pact would link the EU's single market of 500 million people - the world's biggest - with the 10th largest global economy.
But leaders of Wallonia, a 3.5 million-strong French-speaking region south of Brussels, want guarantees CETA will not harm local interests.
Critics especially oppose terms of the deal intended to protect international investors which they say could allow them to force governments to change laws against the wishes of the people.