Embassy Magazine, Canada
Canada-EU negotiators are talking. But is it a round?
By Sneh Duggal
25 April 2012
Canadian and European negotiators are back at the table in Brussels this week to pick through unresolved issues in the Canada-European Union free trade talks.
While the Danish trade minister described the session as the "10th round" of talks, Canadian government officials have said it is not a formal round, but rather "focused negotiations."
Danish Trade and Investment Minister Pia Olsen Dyhr and Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast stood side-by-side April 23 on Parliament Hill to highlight their shared "commitment to an ambitious outcome to these negotiations."
Canada and the EU started talks for a Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in 2009. The ninth round was completed on Oct. 21 in Ottawa, but the two sides have still been meeting.
"The 10th round is actually taking place in Brussels right now," Ms. Olsen Dyhr said.
But at an Oct. 20 briefing, Mr. Fast said, "As we enter the next phase of negotiations, we will move from formal rounds to a set of intensified and focused discussions on the key issues that remain outstanding."
Tomás Dupla del Moral, director for the Americas at the European External Action Service, made similar statements during a visit to Ottawa in January. The service is essentially the EU’s diplomatic corps.
"I’m not sure another comprehensive round is any longer needed. Now it’s a question of solving a number of remaining issues and that can be done without any need for big rounds, which of course is an expression of how advanced things are," Mr. Dupla del Moral had said.
Also in a Jan. 23 teleconference, Mr. Fast said he didn’t expect there would be any additional rounds.
"Now we’re down to a set of very intense and focused negotiations on a sector-by-sector and industry-by-industry basis," he said. "These are obviously the last issues we have left to negotiate before we are able to finalize an agreement."
John Curtis, a former chief economist at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said the wording used just describes the same thing, that negotiations are underway.
Phil Rourke, executive director of the Centre for Trade Policy and Law at Carleton University and the University of Ottawa, wrote in an email to Embassy that it’s hard to distinguish between ’formal’ and ’informal’ rounds at this stage of the negotiations.
"What is clear is that the negotiations are continuing," Mr. Rourke said.
"Negotiators don’t cross the Atlantic on a whim, there has to be good reasons to do so and only after other forms of communication—phone, email and teleconferencing—have all exhausted their relative usefulness."
He said both sides have probably been given instructions from their superiors on how to potentially resolve some key issues.
"The only way to resolve these issues is to sit down together and get down to business, and that’s what they’re doing."
Deal at the ’end-game’
Officials from both sides have said they would like to complete the deal in 2012, with some saying it could be finished as early as this summer.
"We are actually at the end-game," Ms. Olsen Dyhr said. "We have to finalize the last bits and I see that coming soon."
The two sides have finalized about 75 per cent of the deal, she said, adding that she expects the deal to be completed within six months.
Ms. Olsen Dyhr also said it has been one of the "most forthcoming negotiations."
When asked on April 23 what the hold-up was, Mr. Fast said there wasn’t one.
"We don’t see any hold-ups rights now. We’re continuing to negotiate in good faith," Mr. Fast said. "Both parties obviously have certain areas of sensitivity that have to be discussed at the table."
Ms. Olsen Dyhr shed more light, stating that clauses on supply management and rules of origin were still not pinned down.
"The rules of origin is, let’s be frank, it’s still one of the items being discussed."
Rules of origin deal with determining whether or not products are made in Canada.
Canada’s supply management of its dairy and poultry industries is another sticking point.
Canada stated at the beginning that it would discuss all issues at the table, Mr. Fast said, but he added that the country continues to defend its sensitive areas.
Groups like the Dairy Farmers of Canada have been lobbying the government on various issues related to the deal. They support the government’s protection of the dairy and poultry sectors and this is one of their areas of focus during meetings with Canadian officials.
Meanwhile, according to the Council of Canadians, more than 33 municipalities including Toronto, Mississauga, and Hamilton, want to be exempt from the deal because they feel certain job-creating tools or so-called buy local policies might be challenged.
The council’s national chairperson, Maude Barlow, said the deal "offers little new access to the European market that Canadian companies don’t already have."
But Mr. Fast said the deal is expected to boost bilateral trade with the EU by 20 per cent.
Meanwhile the EU’s proposed fuel quality directive, which lists Canadian oil sands crude as particularly carbon intensive, had some analysts questioning last year whether it could have an impact on the free trade talks.
In October, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver went to London and Paris to meet with representatives of EU member states and tell them that the directive was "discriminatory."
Then earlier this month, the European Commission decided to do an impact assessment of the proposed implementing measures for the directive, a move that the Canadian government welcomed. That means no decision would be made before early 2013.
Ms. Olsen Dyhr, however, said that while the fuel quality directive is very important for the EU, it has nothing to do with the free trade talks.
The two issues are on separate tracks, she said, adding that the EU would continue to move forward with environmentally-friendly policies.