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Belgium expected to ratify CETA within the year, says envoy, despite earlier cold feet

By Shruti Shekar      

Plus, the French ambassador is hosting a March 21 charity dinner featuring creations by the PM's personal chef.

Belgian Ambassador Raoul Delcorde, speaking to reporters on March 8 at Ottawa's Rideau Club on Bank Street, says Belgium has more support for CETA than it did 18 months ago. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade
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Belgium’s ambassador says his country is on board with ratifying the Canada-European Union free trade deal before the country’s next election in 2019.

After one part of the country held up the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement at a crucial point in 2016, “the perception [of CETA]….is much more positive than it was 18 months ago,” Raoul Delcorde told reporters at a March 8 briefing to preview this week’s state visit by the Belgian king and queen.

The northern Dutch-speaking Flanders region has already ratified the deal and the rest of the country’s regions are in the process of doing the same, he said. Belgium is divided into three regions: Flanders, Brussels, and Wallonia.

The deal was stalled in 2016 when the French-speaking Wallonia region of southern Belgium was worried chiefly about the deal’s investment-protection provision. The provision allows companies to sue governments without having to go through local courts. Critics said the rules let multinational companies have too much say over public regulation of important areas such as the environment.

Belgium referred the deal in September 2017 to the European Court of Justice for its opinion related to the investment section, but Mr. Delcorde, who has been Belgium’s ambassador to Canada for the past four years, assured reporters last week that the court’s opinion, which has yet to be released, would not change Wallonia’s mind to sign the deal.

He also noted that in July 2017, the Walloon government changed to one considered to be more amenable to the deal.

This week, King Philippe and Queen Mathilde of Belgium along with seven ministers are visiting Canada for the first Belgian state visit to Canada in more than 40 years, with stops in Ottawa, Toronto, and Montreal. Though the visit is meant to focus on military and trade ties, it has so far made headlines because Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is not, unlike past practice, planning a meeting with the royals during the weeklong visit, and because a German flag for a time was mistakenly displayed at Rideau Hall instead of the same-coloured Belgian flag.

At the media briefing before the visit, Mr. Delcorde said Belgium is also closely watching Canada’s ongoing negotiations toward a revised North American Free Trade Agreement with the United States and Mexico. Mr. Delcorde said the the tense talks “might indirectly have an effect on CETA because many European exporters are looking at the Canadian market as an entry to the American market.”

“We are worried about the present tension with your neighbour to your south. But notwithstanding this, I can assure you there is a stronger interest in [CETA],” Mr. Delcorde said.

CETA was 98 per cent provisionally implemented in September and Canada as well as eight of 28 EU countries have already ratified it. All of them must do that for the deal to be permanently in force.

France is in the process of ratifying the deal. French Ambassador Kareen Rispal said in a March 8 interview that the French Parliament would finish the process later this year.

She noted that the deal would grow the value of the agrifood industry, which France is interested in.

Food will be the focus of an upcoming event Ms. Rispal is hosting at the embassy on March 21.

For the fourth year in a row, the embassy will participate in Goût de France/Good France. The event presents healthy French cuisine at embassies, consulates, and participating restaurants across 150 countries.

Out of 3,300 participating restaurants, 32 are Canadian and based in Ottawa, Vancouver, Montreal, Winnipeg, Gatineau, Que., and Moncton, N.B.

Ms. Rispal said for the first time the embassy’s dinner will have the theme of gender equity to coincide with Canada hosting the G7 this year.

Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment is one of Canada’s five G7 themes.

“Gender equity is a big thing for me,” said Ms. Rispal, who is the first woman to assume her role in Canada.

This year, all proceeds from the embassy’s event will go towards Women Deliver, a New York-based organization focused on supporting maternal, sexual, and reproductive health and rights in the developing world.

French Ambassador Kareen Rispal is set to host a charity dinner at the French Embassy on March 21. The Hill Times photograph by Andrew Meade

Ms. Rispal noted Laurent Provence, the embassy’s head chef, and Katie Brown Ardington, the prime minister’s personal chef, will work together to create a menu using local produce, one of the rules of the global event.

“It’s not normal [to have a theme], I just did it because I am in Canada, because it’s the G7, and because I wanted something special. I think by having Katie it was special, and then I put the idea even further…[and] we thought about how it can benefit a charity,” Ms. Rispal said.

Ms. Rispal said the event is geared towards Canadians rather than the foreign diplomatic community in Ottawa. Opening the embassy is a way for Canadians to get to know French culture.

“I think this house belongs to the community, so I really want to bring the community here,” she said.

sshekar@hilltimes.com

@shruti_shekar

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