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EU sets Belgium Friday deadline to back Canada trade deal

AFP  |  Luxembourg 

The European Union gave Belgium until a leaders' summit on Friday to agree to a troubled trade pact with which has been so far blocked by the small French-speaking region of Wallonia.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said a planned visit by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to sign the deal at the end of October would not go ahead unless Belgium agrees.

"Yes there has to be an agreement. Our Canadian friends need to know whether they should book their ticket or not," Malmstroem said, when asked after EU trade ministers in Luxembourg whether Friday's summit was the deadline.

"There are lots of things to discuss with our Canadian friends but if we don't manage to have this trade agreement there will not be (a visit by Trudeau) at this occasion," she said.

The of the Belgian region of Wallonia last week voted to block the deal, known as CETA -- meaning that Belgium itself cannot sign up to the pact and leaving the deal in limbo after seven years of negotiations.

Slovak Trade Minister Peter Ziga, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the EU, said he was "optimistic" that Belgium and the EU would find a way to overcome the reservations expressed by Wallonia.

"Quite frankly I can't really imagine that the final stumbling block would be Belgium and I do believe pragmatism will open the way to an agreement," Ziga told a conference with Malmstroem.

"It's up to the European Council (summit) to settle these final reservations."

EU ministers fear that if CETA were to fail, it would send a signal to the world that it is difficult to reach trade deals with Europe.

The struggle to close the deal is also a worry for Britain, with many seeing CETA as a potential model for ties with the UK after Brexit.

"If we can't make it with I'm not sure we can make it with UK," Malmstroem said.

The ministers' meeting was held as four Greenpeace activists suspended themselves by rope in protest from the top of the conference centre where the talks were held.

Greenpeace sees the deal as a Trojan horse for a far more ambitious deal between the EU and US that is currently under negotiation.

"The disagreements between ministers show how out of touch most of them are with their citizens," Greenpeace's trade policy adviser Shira Stanton said in a statement.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Tue, October 18 2016. 20:48 IST