UNISON has warned that CETA is not dead – yet, despite the failure of Canada and the EU to sign the controversial trade agreement today.
The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement had been due to be signed at an EU-Canada summit today, after seven years of negotiations, .
But Belgium has been unable to back the deal, which had been agreed by all 27 other EU governments, because of opposition led by one of its regions, Wallonia.
Belgium requires the unanimous approval of its federal, regional and community bodies.
But Belgian politicians have agreed to resume talks, in the hopes of keeping the deal alive.
The decision not to sign now has been welcomed by the European federation of public service trade unions, EPSU.
“The position of the Wallonia Parliament is a recognition of the concerns of workers and people voiced as far back as six years,” said general secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan.
“These concerns, for example around public services, have still not been adequately addressed.
EPSU general secretary Jan Willem Goudriaan, speaking at this summer’s national UNISON conference
“Solutions need to be found in the text of the agreement itself, rather than via declarations built on legal quicksand. And the EU and Canada need time to do this.”
UNISON has been campaigning strongly to oppose CETA. The union welcomed today’s events, while warning against complacency.
“We don’t think that this is the end of CETA, yet,” said UNISON head of international Nick Crook.
“The Wallonia government is not opposed to CETA in principle, but wants to see significant concessions.
“If talks continue, we will be following developments closely to see whether these concessions can be achieved and whether they meet the demands of the European and Canadian trade union movements.
“If they don’t, we will not hesitate in calling for CETA to be rejected.”
Mr Crook added: “We welcome the fact that the Wallonian parliament has debated CETA on many occasions, and voted twice on the issue – unlike the UK parliament, which has never debated CETA, let alone voted on it.
“Liam Fox has actually admitted that he would have signed CETA at the trade council last week, without the approval of Parliament.
“In the context of Brexit, UNISON wants full parliamentary scrutiny and approval of any trade agreements before the UK signs them.”
Wallonia has highlighted many issues – about protecting Europe’s high labour, consumer and environmental standards – that UNISON has been raising for the past three years.
Like the equally controversial TTIP agreement with the US, which also stalled earlier this year, CETA is primarily designed to cut tariffs and “regulatory barriers to trade”, making it easier for companies on each side of the Atlantic to access each other’s markets.
But opponents believe these deals would open the door for a “creeping liberalisation of public services”, create legal barriers to regulation in the public interest and threaten employment and labour rights.