Belgium plans new talks to break EU-Canada trade deadlock

Belgium’s political leaders looked Thursday to a new round of talks aimed at resolving differences that have blocked a landmark EU-Canada free trade deal.

The stakes are high amid warnings that the EU’s international standing, already battered by Britain’s shock June Brexit vote, will suffer further if seven years of trade negotiations go to waste because of internal Belgian politics.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said representatives from the federal government and the country’s linguistic communities would resume their talks at 0800 GMT on Thursday after adjourning before midnight Wednesday without an agreement.

He had earlier reported the sides were near a consensus that would allow Belgium to overcome objections from its French-speaking communities and support a trade deal which must be endorsed by all 28 EU member states.

But he added technical issues still needed ironing out.

“We are awaiting a definitive response from” the various communities, Reynders said as the talks wrapped up for the day.

EU leaders had voiced optimism that Belgium’s federal government could win over the holdouts by late Wednesday.

But Rudy Demotte, president of the southern French-speaking Wallonia’s parliament, cautioned “we have technical discussions which are complicated.”

With no agreement in sight, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau postponed plans to travel to Brussels on Thursday to sign the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) with EU leaders.

“The Canadian delegation will not be traveling to Europe tonight,” said Trudeau’s office.

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