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Italy won't ratify EU free-trade deal with Canada - deputy PM

CETA was the EU's biggest accord in years

Italy will not ratify the European Union's free trade agreement with Canada, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Friday, potentially scuppering the EU's biggest accord in years.

"Soon CETA (the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) will arrive in parliament and this majority will reject it and it will not ratify it," Di Maio said at a farmers' association gathering in Rome.

"If so much as one Italian official ... continues to defend treaties like CETA, they will be removed," added Di Maio, who leads the anti-establishment 5-Star Movement, which governs with the right-wing League.

The CETA accord, the first major trade deal the European Union has signed since an agreement with South Korea was ratified in 2015, needs to be approved by all 28 EU member states to take full effect.

The 5-Star/League government, which took office on June 1, has pledged to take a hard line to defend Italian speciality foods. Agriculture Minister Gian Marco Centinaio, from the League, attacked CETA in a newspaper interview last month.

Of the 28 European Union countries, Italy has the most food products with PDO (Protected Designation of Origin) and PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) labels.

These include Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and Prosciutto di Parma ham. Under CETA, Canada has recognised more than 40 Italian PDO and PGI labels out of a total of 292 for the food-obsessed country.

The CETA treaty entered into force on a provisional basis in September 2017, sweeping away tariffs on a large number of goods and widening access to Canadian beef in Europe and EU cheese and wine in Canada.

Its supporters say it would increase trade between the partners by 20 percent and boost the EU economy by €12 billion a year and Canada's by C$12 billion ($9.10 billion).

Some farm associations and critics in European states have expressed concerns about the threat of rapidly rising pork and beef imports from Canada.

Coldiretti, the association of Italian agricultural companies Di Maio was addressing, has called CETA "wrong and risky" for Italy. It says Italian food exports, equal to €41 billion last year, could triple with a serious fight against international food counterfeiting.

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