By Viktoria Dendrinou
BRUSSELS -- European Union governments agreed Friday to back a trade deal between the 28-country bloc and Canada, marking the end of a contentions approval process and clearing the way for the accord to be formally signed this Sunday.
The backing comes after the EU's last holdout country, Belgium, managed to secure the support of its regions -- a necessary step before it could back the accord.
The agreement to support the deal will be well-received in the EU, where officials have been agonizing about the implications an inability to sign the pact would have on the bloc's already bruised trade agenda.
A summit with Canada to sign the trade pact will take place on Sunday.
The agreement "represents a milestone in the EU's trade policy and our commitment to it," said Robert Fico, the prime minister of Slovakia, which currently holds the rotating presidency of the European Council.
He added that the deal "represents a modern and progressive deal, opening the door to new opportunities, while protecting important interests."
Still, the EU's struggle to complete the agreement has raised doubts about its ability to negotiate similarly ambitious accords in the future, especially as talks with the U.S. on a trade and investment pact are faltering.
The so-called Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or CETA, had been hanging by a thread in recent weeks as opposition by Wallonia, Belgium's French-speaking region, kept the country from supporting the deal.
The accord needed the full backing of all 28 EU member states. Belgium's federal government supported the trade pact but needed a green light from its five regional parliaments before giving its official approval.
But after long negotiations between the country's leadership, regions and the EU, Wallonia and the other regions voted in favor of the deal on Friday.
CETA, which was concluded in February after seven years of negotiations, is the first such agreement the bloc has negotiated with another major industrialized economy.
It aims to revoke roughly 9,000 tariffs, covering many industrial goods and agricultural and food items, including beef and fish. It also promises to open up competition in the services sector, including banking and insurance.
Write to Viktoria Dendrinou at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
October 28, 2016 18:10 ET (22:10 GMT)
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