Charest urges Trudeau to call Merkel, Hollande over stalled CETA deal with Europe’s ‘credibility at stake’

OTTAWA — Veteran Liberal statesman Jean Charest, who as Quebec was intimately involved in the debut of Canada-EU free trade talks, says Prime Minister Justin should pick up the phone and urge his French and German counterparts to push for a CETA resolution — because “the credibility of is at stake.”

Charest, reached in London, cautioned wait until the time is right to “get them to step up,” however, urging a cool-down period as tempers flared in Europe Monday over a small Belgian region’s veto of the trade agreement.

“In the next few weeks, I think we’re just going to have to let things cool down. The harder we push now, it’ll just entrench the Walloons in their position. You get to the point in that dynamic where then it a point of pride, their opposition a point of pride,” he said.

After Canada walked out on negotiations Friday, the EU gave Belgium a Monday deadline to lend its support to CETA. But with the regional parliament of Wallonia blocking support, Belgium said Monday it wouldn’t be able to do that.

The assertion was in doubt as Donald Tusk, president of the Council, tweeted in the evening, Brussels time: “together with (Prime Minister Justin Trudeau), we think Thursday’s summit still possible. We encourage all parties to find a solution. There’s yet time.”

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, Trudeau and Tusk spoke Monday and agreed to still “work towards” the summit Thursday where the agreement “will be signed.” The two “agreed to stay in close contact in the coming hours and days,” a spokesman said.

Trudeau was to fly to Europe this Thursday for a Canada-EU summit centered around a CETA signing ceremony. That trip will be cancelled if the Europeans don’t come to a consensus.

“Our strong action had the desired results,” Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday, defending her walk-out on Friday — when she told reporters she thought that a deal was “impossible.

“Today, all the Europeans, including the Walloons, have publicly accepted that Canada’s job is done,” Freeland said. “Canada is ready to sign CETA but the ball is in court and it’s time for Europe to do its job. … We wish them well and we hope that we can get there.”

During period Monday, Conservative trade critic Gerry Ritz accused Freeland of turning her
 back on Canadians and Canadian jobs when she walked out Friday and said there should’ve been an “adult” at the table. Freeland rebutted that she was “tough” and reiterated it was Europe’s turn to within itself.

The NDP, meanwhile, went back to bat for a renegotiation of the deal, with House leader Murray Rankin suggesting that had the Liberal government held consultations on CETA, they would’ve found that “millions of people” are concerned about its implications.

Paul Magnette, the Walloon prime minister, acknowledged Monday negotiations with Canada were over and further negotiation would have to happen within the EU.

Charest said that, although he doesn’t think Trudeau should fly to Europe until it’s a done deal, he thinks Trudeau could call counterparts Angela in Germany and François Hollande in France to ask them to take ownership over the deal — since the world is watching to see whether the EU can get its act together or not.

Charest added Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard could also pick up the phone.

With 28 member states, it’s often unclear which countries are leading the charge, but France and Germany are well-positioned to do so. “We need to get them to step up.”

“The credibility of Europe is at stake,” Charest continued.

“If Europe is not able to come to a deal with Canada, then Europe has no trade , and their ability to get things done is going to be questioned. This issue here on the European side has become much bigger than just Canada. It’s a much bigger issue. And anyone who doesn’t think that’s the case is out to lunch. This is a huge issue and the world will watch.”

The U.K., where Charest was attending a Brexit conference Monday, is paying close attention to what happens with CETA.

One school of thought holds that “if the Brits thought they could negotiate an easy deal with the European Union, look what’s happened to Canada,” Charest said.

But then, “the Brexit folks turn around and say, ‘look, we told you so!’”

Though there’s no “definite time by which this has to be done where we fall off a cliff,” Charest said after seven years of negotiation it’s time to see whether Europe can act as a collective on trade or not.

“If talking with them is just a one-way conversation, with more objections popping up, at one point you have to be able to draw the line and say, ‘listen, why don’t you guys figure it out?’”

The foreign minister of Hungary, Peter Szijjarto, was in Ottawa Monday, and told the National Post he brought up CETA with Foreign Minister Stéphane Dion.

“We are very frustrated, very disappointed,” Szijjarto said of the situation with Wallonia, “and my question would be, with whom would we be able to agree on free trade terms if not with Canada?

“CETA has a significance  way beyond (itself) because this is about the free trade policy of Europe, common trade policy of Europe. If CETA is not successful, then the whole trade policy of European Union will be unsuccessful.”

Szijjarto added, “I really do hope” that the deal will come about, but, “these negotiations have been going on for seven years, so if seven years were not enough then why would I think that an additional two months
 would make it happen?”

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