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Belgian region's rejection imperils EU-Canada trade deal

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Trade unions and environmental activists have warned that large, worldwide trade deals could lower EU standards for food, work and industry.

Supporters of parliamentary ratification say leaving the decision to the European Union would have been undemocratic, because the wide-ranging trade agreement affects national politicians' competences. TTIP faces even stronger opposition than CETA on both sides of the Atlantic, with European Union leaders saying the deal will not be signed by the time US President Barack Obama leaves office.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, meanwhile, says he is confident the trade agreement will make it through. "And if Europe is incapable of signing a progressive deal with a country like Canada, this will send a clear and very unfortunate signal".

The court in Karlsruhe rejected emergency appeals by activists to prevent the government from backing the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) before it has been ratified by national parliaments.

For many, the CETA is only a prelude to an even bigger free trade deal, called TTIP, that is being negotiated with the United States, and which has given rise already to massive protests in several member states, including Belgium - and Wallonia.

Senior European officials have told The Canadian Press that the obstacle thrown up by Wallonia is the single greatest remaining threat to CETA as it enters its final stages.

A major obstacle to CETA remains in Belgium, where the parliament of the French-speaking region of Wallonia backed a motion on Friday to keep the federal government from signing the deal.

"I am very pleased with the outcome of the proceedings", Gabriel said in Berlin, adding he believed that the conditions set out by the court could be resolved easily.

European Union leaders say Europe's commitment to free world trade is at stake, including further planned deals with Japan and the United States.

The court also ruled that the German government must reserve the right to unilaterally withdraw from the deal altogether if the federal parliament fails to ratify it.

Germany will vote on CETA next week.

Opponents of CETA also welcomed the court's decision.

"'Yes' to the strengthening of commercial links with Canada.but no to the text of the deal in its current form", Socialist deputy *Olga Zrihen*said at the opening of the often-rowdy debate. "Of course the court can not dictate policy on trade in a way that stops a deal promoted by governments". Under Belgium's byzantine constitutional arrangements to appease their French and Dutch-speaking populations, all national and regional bodies need to back such trade deals for them to go ahead.

Austria's chancellor, who has expressed strong objections to CETA, said his decision on whether to back the deal would depend to a large extent on the German court's ruling.

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