BRUSSELS — The European Union and Canada tried to remain upbeat Monday about the prospects for their trans-Atlantic free trade pact despite a small Belgian region persisting in its refusal to back the deal under the current conditions.

After the setback early Monday, EU President Donald Tusk and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau spoke by telephone and the EU leader said afterward “there’s yet time” to find a compromise solution.

A joint summit for signing the long-delayed trade deal is scheduled for Thursday, offering the two leaders and Belgian officials little time to persuade the Wallonia region to drop its opposition.

Without all Belgian regions supporting the agreement, Belgium cannot sign and the EU needs unanimity from all of its 28 member states.

“We think Thursday’s summit is still possible,” Tusk said in a Twitter message. “We encourage all parties to find a solution.”

Canada’s International Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland says she, too, is still hopeful that a Canada-EU trade deal can be salvaged, but “the ball is in Europe’s court.”

“Canada’s job is done,” Freeland told a hastily assembled news conference in the foyer of Canada’s House of Commons.

The expressed optimism that a deal could be secured within days came as a surprise because Wallonia had said it has too many concerns with the pact to overcome by Thursday.

The EU’s inability to sign would be a major embarrassment and undermine the belief that the world’s biggest trading bloc is a trustworthy partner as it seeks similar deals with nations like the United States and Japan.

Prospects for a signing ceremony Thursday looked as good as dead Monday afternoon when Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel admitted he could not get unanimity amid Belgium’s half dozen regions and legislatures.

“We have been asked to give a clear answer today” on whether Belgium could sign up as the last of 28 member states, Michel said after meeting with Wallonia leader Paul Magnette. “And the clear answer, at this stage, is no.”

Even though Michel is eager to sign the deal, Belgium’s byzantine constitutional setup means every single region in the country needs to back it, not only the national government. As a result, opposition from a region of 3.5 million could now nix a deal between over 500 million EU citizens and 35 million Canadians.

The EU’s Executive Commission called for patience in an attempt to save the free trade deal and had already dismissed a Monday night deadline as counterproductive.

Magnette insisted he would agree to nothing under the threat of an ultimatum but remained open to further talks.


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