LUXEMBOURG German Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel said on Tuesday he did not expect a planned free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada to fail, but it could take some time to answer questions raised by Belgium and other countries.
"I don't think the agreement can fail," Gabriel told reporters before a meeting of EU trade ministers in Luxembourg. "But Belgium and Romania, for example, still have questions that perhaps can be answered today. Perhaps we will need a bit more time."
All 28 EU governments now back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which would be the bloc's first trade accord with a G7 country.
But the French-speaking region of Wallonia in the south of Belgium opposes the deal, and the country's peculiar governing structure means it cannot sign up without backing from all its constituent parts.
Gabriel said the EU Commission had taken a big step forward by issuing a legally binding declaration in the past month that showed the accord would not lead to reduced consumer protection standards, weaker workers' rights or pressure to privatise firms.
"That should reassure many people in Germany, for example," he said.
A positive vote by the EU would allow the deal to be signed at an EU-Canada summit attended by Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on Oct. 27.
(Reporting by Reuters TV, Rene Wagner and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Michelle Martin and Mark Trevelyan)