Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel speaks during his state-of-the-union address at the Belgian Parliament. (Photo: REUTERS/Francois Lenoir)
A small part of Belgium -- itself a small country -- voted late last week to say that it cannot support the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union.
I couldn't be happier, or more impressed by this beleaguered region standing up to the economic and political forces behind CETA.
Last Friday, the Parliament of Wallonia, a French-speaking area in the bilingual country, voted to prevent Belgium from signing onto the deal. This is significant, because under the Belgian constitution, every regional parliament in the country must agree to any such deal.
Some have described this particular feature of Belgium's constitution as "byzantine" for its ability to block such national or international deals. Keep in mind that Wallonia is one of those regions of Europe that has been regularly overrun by foreign powers over the centuries. The constitutional veto is no doubt a reflection of outside threats, whether military or economic.
Here's why it matters: without Wallonia's support, Belgium cannot ratify the deal. Without Belgium's support, CETA cannot go ahead.
Protesters gather to protest the TTIP and CETA free trade agreements at Brussels, Belgium on Sept. 20, 2016. (Photo: Dursun Aydemir/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
In an attempt to counteract the feat of a tiny but mighty region, other CETA countries are sending trade envoys to Wallonia to boost support the deal. Canada is sending Pierre Pettigrew, our trade minister back when the World Trade Organization talks collapsed in Seattle.
On the face of it, Canada couldn't be more different from Belgium -- or Wallonia, for that matter. We are very big geographically, they are small. We are a relatively young country, the Belgian nation dates back centuries.
But we also have much in common -- and not just because so many Canadians fought and died in Walloon fields and towns during two world wars. Both Canada and Wallonia are home to industrial towns that have seen factories go silent, devastating their communities.
On CETA in particular, the concerns in Wallonia would be familiar to anyone in Canada who is also worried about the deal. As Socialist MP Olgo Zrihen said, "We say yes to trade with Canada. No to the text as it is currently written."
Andre Antoine, chairman of the Belgium's French-speaking region of Wallonia parliament. Lawmakers voted to block an EU-Canada trade deal in a move with serious implications for future trade talks with the U.S. and a non-EU Britain. (Photo: Bruno Fahy/AFP/Getty Images)
Here in Canada, Unifor has been saying much the same thing about both CETA and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Like other progressive groups in this country, we recognize that Canada is a trading nation, and we support international trade, but only when trade is fair.
What we cannot support is any trade deal that does not serve the needs of working people or one that restricts our right to pass laws in the interest of the people.
Like the people of Wallonia, Canadians are increasingly concerned about the powers given to corporations under Investor State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) systems. Hélène Ryckmans, an MP for Wallonia's environmental Ecolo Party, said the ISDS system could force the region to pay compensation to corporations if local regulations hurt their profits - even if those regulations are in the public interest.
Here in Canada, we have similar concerns. Canada is already the most sued nation in the world under ISDS systems, thanks to similar provisions in NAFTA. It makes no sense for Canada to sign any deal, such as CETA or the TPP, that would see us sued even more.
The vote in Wallonia isn't about people or local politicians not understanding the deal. It's about out-of-touch politicians bending to a corporate agenda and the drive of capitalism rather than putting the needs of people first. This is the time for governments to stand boldly and with courage and conviction to push a new model of fair trade - one in which the needs and the future of communities are put first.
We should take inspiration from them, and redouble our efforts to push back against CETA.
There is an opportunity here to do the right thing. The question is whether politicians have the will to stand up to restore and define the kind of communities that we want, ones where we are not made subservient to the profit needs of corporations.
Asked by reporters if such a small region should really have final say over such a big deal, the people of Wallonia just shrugged. What we are seeing in Wallonia are ordinary people from a forgotten industrial and farming region saying enough is enough.
This isn't the ugly face of Brexit. This is the people saying they know a better life is possible, and I applaud their efforts for taking action to stand up for the principle of fairness. They saw a better world when factories in their communities hummed with activity and provided good jobs. They believe in trade, knowing that the factories in Wallonia once sent products across Europe and around the world, but they don't believe in handing over all their rights to corporations just to get it.
It takes great bravery, in the face of stark economic troubles, to stand up to whatever faint hope a trade deal might offer, but that's what the people of Wallonia are doing. We should take inspiration from them, and redouble our efforts to push back against CETA.
To the people of Wallonia, Unifor stands with you.
Follow HuffPost Canada Blogs on Facebook
Also on HuffPost:
The trade pact needs the consent of Canada's provinces and EU member states to become law. So far, it's looking good on the provincial front: Quebec, Manitoba, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Saskatchewan's leaders have all praised the deal, and Ontario seems open to it assuming it can get compensation for some of its industries that will be harmed by the deal. Pictured: Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso shake hands following a joint media availability Friday, October 18, 2013 at the European Commission in Brussels, Belgium.
Canada will partially extend patent protection for brand-name drugs, which would delay the introduction of cheaper generics by up to two years. Officials say it will be eight years before any impact of these changes show up as higher costs for provincial drug plans. Earlier reports have suggested the cost to the health care system of extended drug patents could run between $1 billion and $3 billion annually. Jim Keon, president of the Canadian Generic Pharmaceutical Association: The EU trade deal will "delay market entry of cost-saving generic prescription medicines in Canada in the future, increasing health-care costs for provinces, employers that sponsor drug plans for their employees and Canadians who pay for their prescription medicines out-of-pocket." The federal government has suggested it will compensate provinces for higher costs as a result of the agreement.
Domestic car producers will be able to increase sales into Europe to 100,000 units from about 10,000 today under relaxed rules. The EU will phase out its 10-per-cent tariff on imports, and Canada will phase out a 6-per-cent tariff on European car imports. That could be good news for Canadian fans of European luxury cars, as those vehicles will be cheaper. But that, in turn, could be bad news for Canadian auto manufacturers. Dennis DesRosiers of DesRosiers Auto Analysts: "I don’t think anyone can definitively know what the impact of the current EU Agreement will be on the automotive sector. ... The [Canadian] industry peaked in the year 2000 and has been struggling since and, indeed, just finished one of its worse decades in history and continues to deteriorate. Was this the long term result of FTA and NAFTA? We don’t know but it could be."
Canadian beef farmers increase their quota by 50,000 tonnes, in addition to 15,000 tonnes for high-quality beef. Pork farmers will see their quota rise to 80,000 tonnes from the current 6,000. But producers will have to convert to hormone-free product for the European market, which experts say can add about 15 per cent to costs. Martin Unrau, president of the Canadian Cattlemen's Association: "The removal of long-standing barriers in this agreement, such as high tariffs, finally enables Canadian beef producers to benefit from the high value that the European beef market represents." Dairy Farmers of Ontario: "It will take income from Canadian dairy farmers and their communities and give it to the European industry."
Companies will be allowed to bid on major government procurement contracts right down to the municipal level. A joint study showed the new access will give European companies leeway to bid on federal contracts worth between $15 billion and $19 billion an year, and municipal contracts worth $112 billion a year. Critics say that, because of the common practice of "hiring Canadian" in government contracts, EU access to them could mean job losses in Canada. Trade Justice Network: "Canadian governments would lose a powerful tool for spurring job creation and economic development."
Foreign takeovers of Canadian firms now require a formal federal government review if the deal is worth $1 billion or more, but this agreement will raise that to $1.5 billion.
Labour and consumer groups fear CETA could lead to the privatization of Canada's water supply and infrastructure. According to early leaks from the negotiations, Canada did not try to protect water resources as part of the trade deal. The Council of Canadians writes: "This deal will give French companies Suez and Veolia, the two biggest private water operations in the world, access to run our water services for profit. Under a recent edict, the Harper government has tied federal funding of municipal water infrastructure construction or upgrading to privatization of water services. Private water operators charge far higher rates than public operators and cut corners when it comes to source protection."
Follow Jerry Dias on Twitter: www.twitter.com/JerryPDias