By Viktoria Dendrinou and Julia-Ambra Verlaine

BRUSSELS--The European Union and Canada signed a long-delayed trade deal Sunday, bringing to a formal end a contentious approval process that threatened to derail the bloc's entire trade agenda.

In a joint statement after signing the pact here, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called it "the most comprehensive, ambitious and progressive trade agreement ever negotiated by either Canada or the European Union."

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or 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 is seen by many EU officials as a model for future ambitious economic agreements with the bloc's other large trade partners--including the likely one with the U.K. once it leaves the EU.

The formal agreement is a welcome boost for the EU, which over the past year has seen support for its trade policy fade amid growing anti-globalization sentiment across the 28-country bloc.

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 trade pact had been on thin ice in recent weeks after opposition from a Belgian region kept the country--and the EU--from supporting the deal.

But after long negotiations between the country's leadership, regions and the EU, Belgium on Friday managed to gather the requiredsupport for the deal.

CETA 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.

Canada has aggressively pursued the trade pact with the EU in a bid to boost its tepid outlook for growth at a time when its economy has been hit hard by the commodity-price swoon.

The deal can be applied provisionally once the European Parliament also ratifies it in December. But for it to be fully put in place, it will have to be ratified by the EU's more than 30 national and regional parliaments.

Provisional implementation will include all aspects of the deal relating to trade, whereas a controversial court to settle investment disputes between states and companies would only come into force with full implementation.

Write to Viktoria Dendrinou at

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

October 30, 2016 10:28 ET (14:28 GMT)

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