This is supposed to be the week that Canada and the EU ink their landmark Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) after seven years of painstaking negotiations. Hopes are fading, however, due to last-minute objections from Belgium's Wallonia region.
The French-speaking area's 3.6 million people represent less than 1% of the EU's total population. Yet Wallonia's opposition alone is enough to sidetrack the whole process. Why? Because without Wallonia on board, Belgium as a whole cannot support the massive trade deal. And without Belgium, the CETA, which requires backing from all of the EU's 28 member states, cannot proceed.
Is Wallonia about to cost the EU a golden opportunity to boost trade and demonstrate its continued relevance after the stunning Brexit blow it suffered earlier this year? Perhaps. But while many observers lament the Belgian region's obstinance, others say there are good reasons to be wary of CETA.
Chief among Wallonia's objections is that the deal favors corporate power over local legislation by allowing companies to seek arbitration in cases where their profit-making abilities are limited by host-country regulations. In other words, CETA — like most trade deals of its kind — allows foreign corporations to sue individual countries via outside tribunals.
This is no idle threat, as the tiny Central American nation of El Salvador can attest. In 2009, a Canadian mining company called Pacific Rim, frustrated by El Salvador's refusal to grant it an operating license, used a World Bank tribunal in Washington, D.C. to file a $100 million suit. The claim was later increased to $250 million.
Earlier this month, the tribunal finally reached a decision: It dismissed the suit — but only after seven years of deliberations that cost the cash-strapped Salvadoran government an estimated $13 million in legal expenses. It is another reminder that globalization, for better or worse, is a game best played with deep pockets.
- Anti-government protests planned in Venezuela that opponents to President Nicolas Maduro are dubbing the "Taking of Venezuela."
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CALAIS EVACUATION CONTINUES AFTER FIRES
The evacuation and demolition of the Calais "Jungle" continued into early this morning. Some 30 fires ignited overnight by migrants destroyed important parts of the camp, and firefighters had to be protected by police officers after stones were hurled at them, according to French news station BFM TV. According to government figures, 3,242 adults and 772 minors were relocated on Monday and Tuesday, about half of the estimated population in the camp.
ISIS BLAMED FOR CIVILIAN KILLINGS IN AFGHANISTAN
Suspected ISIS gunmen abducted and executed at least 30 civilians in the Afghan province of Ghor, in what is believed to be a revenge attack for the killing of one of their commanders, Al Jazeera reports.
— ON THIS DAY
"When Rodrigo Duterte will make a courtesy visit to the Emperor, his behavior during the event could have a major impact," Itsunori Onodera, a senior lawmaker in Japan said over concerns that the Philippine president might forget his manners and chew gum in front of the Japanese Emperor, when the two meet on Friday. "I trust he understands the consequences and he would not do such a thing," Onodera added.
Feelings of guilt and responsibility are strong among German and Austrian "grandchildren of World War II," but nowhere is it stronger than in the little northern Austrian town of Braunau am Inn, as author Tanja Hofbauer writes in our Rue Amelot essay section. "Yes, I share a hometown with Hitler — and his childhood house is still here. But in case you're wondering: No, my grandparents and great-grandparents never knew him personally.
It does get ugly here once each year, on April 20, when my little town becomes a mecca for all kinds of fascists and neo-Nazis wishing to celebrate Hitler's birthday. We all stay at home, hope there is no real news to report, and wait for the day to pass as quickly as possible. But over the past few weeks, we've been in the headlines on a regular basis, ever since the Austrian interior ministry announced plans to demolish Hitler's house. Perhaps you'd think I welcome the idea, but I do not."
Read the full essay, When You Share A Hometown With Adolf Hitler.
SPAIN FACING BACKLASH OVER RUSSIAN REFUEL
Spain is preparing to refuel a fleet of Russian warships on its way to Syria, where it will bolster the Russian air force's capacities in the bombing of Aleppo, newspaper ABC reports, citing military sources. NATO and EU officials have condemned the decision.
GAMBIA TO WITHDRAW FROM ICC
Gambia announced yesterday its withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, joining South Africa and Burundi which recently announced similar moves. Justifying the government's decision, Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said the ICC was "is in fact an International Caucasian Court for the persecution and humiliation of people of color, especially Africans," and accused it of ignoring "heinous war crimes" committed by Western nations. Read more from Reuters.
— MY GRAND-PERE'S WORLD
Worldwide Safari — Kruger National Park, 1997
About 500,000 solar panels were installed every day last year worldwide, and the world's capacity to generate electricity from renewable sources has now overtaken coal, according to a report from the International Energy Agency.
GENDER PAY GAP HERE TO STAY
If the World Economic Forum's latest Global Gender Gap Report is right, women will earn as much as men and represent half of the world's bosses in about 170 years.
MORE STORIES, EXCLUSIVELY IN ENGLISH BY WORLDCRUNCH
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DON'T LICK THAT LICHEN
Biologists working in the Ecuadorian Amazon region have discovered a new species of lichen said to possess strong hallucinogenic properties. Lichen In The Sky With Diamonds?