VIENNA Austria will not stand in the way of a trade agreement between the European Union and Canada, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said on Friday, removing a potential obstacle to the accord after suggesting he might block it.
Kern, who took over as head of Austria's centrist coalition government in May, raised objections to the deal in August when it was all but complete, arguing that some of its elements could lead to watering down food, employment and other standards and give foreign companies leverage over governments.
He has since pushed for a delay to the introduction of tribunals aimed at settling disputes between investors and governments. He has also sought to spell out limits to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, its formal name, in a declaration that will not be part of the agreement's text and might not be legally binding, as he had hoped.
"We in Austria will not hinder the signing of CETA or the broader process," he told a news conference after he got the backing of his Social Democratic Party's leadership, but he said the leadership had demanded clarifications on a range of issues.
A major obstacle to CETA remains in Belgium, where the parliament of the French-speaking region of Wallonia backed a motion on Friday to keep the federal government from signing the deal. EU trade ministers are due to vote on CETA on Tuesday and have signalled they are seeking unanimous support.
Kern had said a ruling on Thursday by Germany's Constitutional Court on appeals by opponents of CETA would influence whether the agreement went through. The court rejected the appeals, under certain conditions.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Larry King)