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Canadian minister says up to EU to save trade deal

Demonstrators protest against CETA in Brussels

Canada’s trade minister said on Saturday it was up to the European Union to save a free trade deal that is being blocked by opposition from Belgium’s French-speaking region before it is due to be signed next Thursday.

Chrystia Freeland said Canada is ready to sign the pact and that negotiations on its fine points were over.

“We have done our job. We have finished negotiating a very good agreement. Now the ball is in Europe’s court,” she said after meeting with Martin Schulz, president of the European Parliament, and ahead of her flight home.

“I hope that I can return in the next days with my prime minister to sign the treaty as planned.”

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.

Schulz, who is not directly involved in Ceta talks but has good working ties with Freeland, held an emergency meeting with Walloon premier Paul Magnette in a bid to revive the deal.

“The door for every step forward is open but it’s quite clear that the problems on the table are European problems,” Schulz said.

“In my eyes, there are no problems that cannot be resolved.”

Freeland quit talks on Friday with chief Canadian and EU trade negotiators and Magnette, declaring reaching a deal with the EU was “impossible.”

Magnette on Saturday, however, said his discussions with Canada were concluded and the remaining issues to be worked out were for the EU executive to address.

“We have still some little difficulties among Europeans,” he said, without giving details. “We won’t hide that so we still have to work and discuss for a certain amount of time.”

The agreement, the EU’s first with a Group of Seven country, would, according to supporters, increase trade between the partners by 20 percent.

EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said she still hoped to find a solution to the deal, which was due to be signed at a summit next Thursday with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

Wallonia is home to about 3.5 million people, less than 1 percent of the 507 million Europeans Ceta would affect, but the EU’s flagship trade project rests on the will of its government.

Walloons have concerns about the threat of surging pork and beef imports from Canada and an independent court system to settle disputes between states and foreign investors, which critics fear hands power to multinationals.

Many EU leaders also suspect the local government in Namur of using its devolved powers to play domestic politics.

The issue is greater than just a trade deal with Canada, the EU’s 12th-largest trading partner.

If Ceta fails, the EU’s hopes of completing similar deals with the United States or Japan would be in tatters, undermining a bloc already battered by Britain’s vote to leave it and disputes over Europe’s migration crisis.

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