The EU and Canada have signed a landmark trade pact, ending days of drama after a small Belgian region refused to endorse the agreement and deeply embarrassed the EU.
The long-delayed Comprehensive and Economic Trade Agreement, known as Ceta, was bedevilled by yet another hold-up early in the day when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s plane had to return to Ottawa because of mechanical issues.
The deal was signed in Brussels by Mr Trudeau and other EU officials. The signing ceremony had initially been planned for Thursday but had to be cancelled after Wallonia, a region in Belgium, vetoed the final proposals and forced concessions.
“What patience,” exclaimed European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as he embraced Mr Trudeau at the EU headquarters in Brussels.
The process leading up to the signing of Ceta will have been watched closely by Downing Street officials as they prepare to enter negotiations with the other 27 EU member states – once the Prime Minister triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The delay, caused by the Belgian region, could raise concerns about how difficult an ambitious free trade deal over Brexit could to be.
Article 50, the untested protocol for a member state leaving the EU, allows for a maximum of two years to negotiate a deal. If an extension is required, then it has to be ratified by every other member state in the bloc.
According to Reuters news agency, Mr Juncker told reporters he did not think the Canadian deal would have any impact on future Brexit negotiations. “I don't see any relation between what we are signing today and the Brexit issue," he said.
Welcoming the trade agreement Theresa May said:“The UK has long been a powerful and positive force for free trade and we will continue to be one. Indeed, I want Britain to be the global champion for free trade, recognising the opportunities of such trade deals for businesses and customers around the world.”
Negotiations on the agreement, signed today, were launched in 2009 but the process has been beset by delays. The EU says Ceta will remove 99 per cent of tariffs and boost trade with Canada by €12bn (£10.8bn) a year.
“This is an important day for the EU and Canada too, because we setting international standards which will have to be followed by others with whom we are in negotiations as far as free trade is concerned,” Mr Juncker added.
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