EU negotiator says Canada must give up more to get free-trade deal

The Star, Toronto

EU negotiator says Canada must give up more to get free-trade deal

Latest comments from Brussels show Ottawa and EU still divided on key issues despite four years of talks.

By Les Whittington, Ottawa Bureau reporter, Ottawa Bureau

22 February 2013

OTTAWA—Stark differences between Canada and the European Union in their free-trade talks came into focus Thursday when the EU’s chief negotiator said Canada isn’t offering enough concessions to conclude a deal.

After nearly four years of discussion, Canada and the Europeans had hoped to sign off on a landmark trade pact earlier this month when EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht met in Ottawa with his Canadian counterpart Ed Fast. But the agreement was left undone.

“What was on the table was simply not feasible,” De Gucht explained Thursday to the European Parliament’s trade committee.

“On a number of issues they will have to make additional exceptions,” he said, referring to the Canadians.

It was the clearest statement yet on the lengthy negotiations, which are said to have bogged down over differences on agricultural quotas, pharmaceutical patent protection, auto exports and opening up procurement contracts in Canada to European companies (and vice-versa for Canada’s corporations).

Despite these differences, agreement has been reached by negotiators on the broad outlines of a free-trade pact. Bilateral talks are continuing and Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government has invested considerable political capital in hammering out an agreement, which would give Canadian companies access to the world’s largest market.

“Canada and the EU share the desire to conclude these negotiations as soon as possible,” Rudy Husny, press secretary to Fast, said late Thursday.

“We are committed to achieving an outcome that is in the best interests of Canadians, and opens up new opportunities for Canada’s exporters,” Fast said.

Both the EU and Canada appear to be jockeying for advantage in the final negotiating stages, which are always the most difficult in any bilateral trade talk.

And the negotiations have taken on fresh urgency now that U.S. President Barack Obama has announced his government will enter into free-trade discussions with the EU.

The Harper government, which is eager to reduce Canada’s trade dependence on the U.S. by diversifying exports, says a deal opening up the EU’s 500 million consumers to Canadian products would add $12 billion a year to Canada’s economic output.

With files from Reuters