OTTAWA — The 3.5-million French-speaking Walloons of Belgium are standing in the way of the seven years of negotiations that led to the wide-ranging free trade deal between the 35 million people of Canada and the 500 million living in the European Union. The Wallonia region has an effective veto over the deal because Belgium's constitution gives them that power over the country's national government.
Here are five things at the heart of Wallonia's discontent over the deal, known as CETA:
Namur, Belgium, the political seat of French-speaking Wallonia. Wallonia has rejected CETA, the Canada-EU free trade deal, putting the trade deal on ice. (Photo: lovelypeace via Getty Images)
1. Too much corporate power
While the Walloons are worried their agriculture sector will suffer under the deal, they are increasingly concerned about the investor-state dispute settlement system as well. The region's socialist government has adopted many of the concerns of the civil society groups that oppose the free trade deal: they say it gives multinational corporations too much power to sue governments if they make regulations that affect their ability to turn a profit.
2. Trade tribunals
The Walloons want changes to the ISDS provisions of the treaty, specifically the tribunals that would settle disputes. They want them to be more transparent to eliminate the possibility of bias or conflict of interests by the people appointed to adjudicate disputes.
Minister-President of Wallonia Paul Magnette holds up notes during a debate on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), a planned EU-Canada free trade agreement, at the Walloon regional parliament in Namur, Belgium October 21, 2016. (Photo: Reuters/Francois Lenoir)
3. Loophole for U.S. corporations
The Walloons want to see loopholes closed that they say would allow U.S. multinationals with offices in Canada to use the treaty to sue governments in Europe, says Osgoode Hall law professor Gus Van Harten.
4. National courts vs. tribunals
Van Harten also says the Walloons want stronger language in the treaty that would preserve the jurisdiction of domestic courts in individual countries to hear disputes, instead of turning them over to the new tribunal system envisioned by the treaty.
5. We don't know what we're getting
In a parliamentary debate last week, Wallonian President Paul Magnette used an interesting metaphor to describe what he says is the opaque nature of the tribunals. He said it was like buying "a cat in a bag.''