EU nations approve trade deal, 'ready to sign' with Canada: statement
Brussels (AFP) - The EU's 28 member states have approved a landmark free trade deal with Canada, the bloc said in a statement, clearing the way for it to be signed after years of negotiations.
"I am delighted to confirm that the EU is ready to sign the comprehensive economic and trade agreement with Canada," Prime Minister Robert Fico of Slovakia, which currently holds the EU presidency, said of the deal known as CETA.
"It represents a milestone in the EU's trade policy and our commitment to it," he added.
The green light came shortly after Belgian regional parliaments approved the deal -- the most ambitious ever negotiated by Brussels -- clearing the way for the EU to sign the pact after two weeks of fraught talks that threatened the bloc's credibility.
CETA requires all 28 EU member states to endorse it before it can be signed and then ratified by their parliaments and in some cases -- as in Belgium -- by their regional governments.
Belgium's Wallonia region and other French-speaking communities had effectively blocked the deal by raising concerns over potential damage to local interests.
The EU had been due to sign CETA at a summit Thursday in Brussels with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, but that had to be embarrassingly called off as his Belgian counterpart Charles Michel was still trying to win the holdout regions' backing.
"The CETA represents a modern and progressive deal, opening the door to new opportunities, while protecting important interests," Fico said in the statement announcing that the EU was finally ready to sign.
"Moreover, it has the potential to set the way forward for future trade deals."