What Did Walloons Get from Resisting Canada Trade Pact?

Belgium asks for a review of investor-state tribunals and an evaluation of the treaty’s environmental impact.

Paul Magnette, the regional prime minister of Wallonia, Belgium, makes a speech in Brussels, June 15
Paul Magnette, the regional prime minister of Wallonia, Belgium, makes a speech in Brussels, June 15 (EU/Tim De Backer)

The Socialist-led regional government of Belgium’s French-speaking south, which had stalled ratification of a European trade pact with Canada, agreed to support the treaty after all on Thursday.

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union will itself not change.

But the Belgians do ask for a four-page addition to the 1,600-page treaty, which must be endorsed by all four of Belgium’s regional parliaments as well as the 27 other EU member states before the full accord can come into force.

Tribunals

The amendment includes a request to the European Court of Justice to rule if investor-state tribunals created by the pact are compatible with EU law.

Left-wing opposition, in Wallonia and elsewhere, has centered on the way trade agreements settle disputes between companies and governments.

In an attempt to alleviate such concerns, Canadian and EU trade negotiators have proposed to create a new court to replace the investor-state dispute mechanism that has been in place since the 1960s.

The Walloons still worry this might give corporations political power, although proponents of CETA argue that such fears are overblown.

Agriculture

Other concessions include an evaluation of the treaty’s environmental impact and the promise that Wallonia could opt out of its more liberal agricultural trade regime if cheap Canadian imports flood its domestic market.

The four extra pages also reiterate Belgium’s opposition to genetically modified food products.

Belgium as a whole has lost 67 percent of its agricultural companies and 60 percent of its agricultural workforce since 1980. The Walloon province of Liège, situated on the German border, has seen some of the sharpest declines.

As a share of the economy, agriculture has remained fairly stable, however, at around 1 percent of gross domestic product.

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