Five things about the Walloons and the Canada-EU free trade agreement

OTTAWA – The legislature of the restive Belgian region of Wallonia voted Friday by a 46-14 margin to oppose the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and European Union. Here are five things to consider about that.

1. So who are the Walloons?

They are the 3.5 million inhabitants of a mainly French-speaking region that makes up much of the southern half of Belgium. It is one of three such self-governing regions in the country, joining Flanders and the Brussels-Capital region.

2. What have they got against CETA?

Wallonia’s politicians believe the deal will be bad for their farming and industrial sectors, because they won’t be able to compete with cheaper Canadian exports. The concern comes in the wake of complaints by environmental activists and trade unions that this deal and others will erode standards for food, work and industry.

3. Why can’t the Belgian government just ignore them and approve the deal?

Wallonia, like its two regional counterparts, has the power to withhold its approval of the deal from Belgium’s national government because of the country’s constitution — even though the Flanders and Brussels regions are OK with it.

4. How can CETA be saved?

Wallonia leader Paul Magnette said “we have to say no so we can negotiate” better labour, environmental and legal standards. Some have said that the five-page “joint interpretative declaration” that is to be added to the CETA text could be given the force of law and could clarify some of what the Walloons view as objectionable in the treaty

5. What happens next?

Various Canadian and European politicians, including French President Francois Hollande, are pushing Magnette to abandon his region’s opposition. As of Friday, the Walloons had yet to serve formal notice on their Belgian national counterparts that they will oppose the deal. People are working throughout the weekend to change Magnette’s mind.

Sources: and the Associated Press