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EU’s a big deal, but just don’t call it "free trade"

Trade Minister Peter Van Loan in the House of Commons on Thursday (Photo: Reuters)

Vancouver Sun | 23 Sep 2010

EU’s a big deal, but just don’t call it "free trade"

Andrew Mayeda

Trade Minister Peter Van Loan says his top priority, next to Canada’s relationship with the United States, is pushing toward a trade deal with the European Union.

Just don’t call it "free trade."

In a speech Thursday at an event organized by the Fraser Institute, Van Loan appeared amused at the diplomatic necessity of avoiding the term "free trade" when negotiating with the Europeans.

"We call it a ’comprehensive economic trade agreement.’ I’m told I’m supposed to call it that; that’s what all the officials tell me. The Europeans are quite insistent on that," Van Loan told his audience at the posh Rideau Club in Ottawa.

Not surprisingly, as a Conservative, Van Loan is a big fan of the North American Free Trade Agreement, signed in 1988 by the Mulroney government. But the term "free trade" doesn’t always play well in Europe, where some political leaders have been highly critical of the free-wheeling model of capitalism practised in the United States, a model that critics say helped trigger the global financial crisis.

"It’s funny, I was having a meeting with the foreign minister of Bulgaria," Van Loan recounted. "And I said the main purpose of my visit is to promote these comprehensive economic trade agreement talks. And he said, ’Why wouldn’t you call it free trade?’ And I said, ’The Europeans prefer to call it that.’ He said, ’Comprehensive economic trade agreement? That sounds like something Moscow sent to destroy our economy.’"

In an interview later with Postmedia News, Van Loan said the government hopes to clinch a deal with the EU, which Canadian officials estimate could boost trade with Europe to $38 billion, by the end of next year.

 source: Vancouver Sun