After seven years of negotiations, and a recent impasse between Belgium’s regional authorities, the free trade deal between the European Union and Canada could finally be signed over the next few days.

Now that the holdout Belgian region of Wallonia is on board with the deal, the agreement now has to be formally approved by the parliaments of the 28 EU member nations.

If the deal, known as CETA, is finally ratified, it will open up a “huge market” for Canadian companies, said one expert.

Stefan Renckens, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto whose research interests include international trade deals and EU politics, said the elimination of tariffs on Canadian products in the EU will make Canadian companies much more competitive in those lucrative markets.

“Overall, the estimate is that this will be positive for both Canadian and European companies,” Renckens told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

Highlights of the deal include bigger trade quotas for agricultural products, and opportunities for Canadian companies to bid on European projects via the EU government procurement market. 

According to a CETA overview provided by the Canadian government, the agreement would eliminate 98 per cent of all tariffs on goods traded between Canada and the EU. That would provide Canadian exporters “with a clear advantage” over other countries who also export their products to Europe. 

For example, CETA would eliminate the 8-per-cent tariff on Canadian maple syrup exported to EU countries, making it “more competitive in the eyes of the buyers in the EU.”

If the deal comes into force, Canadians will also see more European products at more affordable prices on store shelves. Big-ticket items such as German-made cars will also become cheaper in Canada.

Ian Lee, an associate professor at Carleton University’s Sprott School of Business, said CETA is “very significant” because Canada needs to diversify its trading relationships and should not always rely on its biggest trading partner, the United States.

“We need other markets and the EU has 500 million people,” Lee told CTV News Channel Thursday.

“This is an enormous opportunity for our businesses at a time when our economy is slowing and the population is aging here in Canada.”

A joint Canada-EU study concluded that CETA could increase bilateral trade by 20 per cent annually and boost Canada's income by $12 billion annually. The study also suggested the economic benefit of the agreement would be equivalent to creating almost 80,000 new jobs or increasing the average Canadian household's annual income by $1,000.

With files from The Canadian Press