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June 28, 2017

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Trade chief optimistic over EU-Canada deal

LUXEMBOURG -- A troubled EU-Canada free trade deal can be signed "next week" despite the last-minute opposition of the Belgian region of Wallonia, EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstroem said on Tuesday.

In a shock vote, the small Belgian region of Wallonia on Friday blocked the deal, known as CETA — meaning that Belgium itself cannot sign up to the pact and leaving the deal in limbo after seven years of negotiations.

The vote threatened to torpedo the deal's long-delayed signing by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau in Brussels on Oct. 27 which would have opened the way for CETA's partial implementation.

"I am not sure we will be able to make a decision today, but hopefully we'll move forward and can make a decision very soon," Malmstroem said as she arrived for emergency talks with EU trade ministers in Luxembourg.

The ministers' meeting was held as four activists from Greenpeace hung by rope from the conference center hosting the talks as police watched nearby.

Greenpeace has led opposition to the CETA deal, tipping it as a Trojan horse for a far more ambitious deal between the EU and U.S. that is currently under negotiation.

'Convincing to do'

EU ministers fear a failure of CETA would send a bad sign to the world on the difficulty of reaching trade deals with Europe.

The struggle to close the deal is also a worry for Britain, with many seeing CETA as a potential model for ties with the UK after Brexit.

Malmstroem said she remained optimistic that the concerns of Wallonia will be addressed in time for the summit through a so-called interpretative document that would also be agreed to by Canada.

"I think that next week, we will be able to sign the declaration with the Canadian government," she said.

In Belgium's labyrinthine political system, the federal government is unable to sign off on trade deals without the backing of its regional and linguistic parliaments.

"In Belgium, we still have some convincing to do," said Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders as he arrived at the talks.

"We received some new proposals yesterday and today we will see where we stand," he added.

Paul Magnette, Wallonia's outspoken head of government, on Monday pointed to "disguised threats" for him to approve CETA.

"If some think that will give in, then we will have to confirm our 'no,'" Magnette warned.

Green MEPs meanwhile sent a letter to EU President Donald Tusk urging him to suspend ratification with Canada.

"It is a wrong ... to proceed towards the start of the ratification process for the mere reason that a EU-Canada Summit is set for the date of 27-28 October," the letter said.

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