‘Very significant gaps’ remain in reaching Canada-EU free trade deal: Harper

     Jason Fekete, Postmedia News | 13/09/06 |

Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with the media following the conclusion of the G20 Summit Friday in Russia.

Adrian Wyld/The Canadian Press   Prime Minister Stephen Harper speaks with the media following the conclusion of the G20 Summit Friday in Russia.

 

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia — Prime Minister Stephen Harper says “very significant gaps” remain in Canada-EU free-trade negotiations, signalling that the already overdue trade pact won’t be completed anytime soon.

While the trade talks appear stalled, the broader G20 announced a series of economic measures meant to spur the sluggish global economy, including promising to avoid new protectionist trade policies and automatically sharing tax information to combat international tax evasion.

Harper met Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit with European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, with the Canada-EU trade deal at the top of the agenda.

The negotiations have dragged on for more than four years, with Harper originally promising a deal would be reached by the end of 2012.

The prime minister said Friday the two sides have made considerable gains over the past few years and are “very close” on a number of issues.

However, Harper said a significant amount of work and political compromise is still needed on a handful of key issues before Canada and the European Union complete a trade deal.

“Based on the meeting we had today, and some recent discussions, we still have some very significant gaps that have not been bridged, and that is the reality of the situation,” Harper told reporters at the conclusion of the summit.

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The Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) would be the biggest trade deal in Canadian history, but Harper said it must be done in a way that serves the interests of the provinces and the broader Canadian economy.

“We are not there as of now,” he said.

The schism between the two sides on some major issues could be problematic for the Harper government, as the European Union turns its attention to negotiating a free-trade deal with the United States. The EU and U.S. launched their trade talks over the summer.

Canada and the EU have seemingly been deadlocked on a couple of key issues in recent months, including Canadian beef access into Europe, government procurement on urban transit in Canada, and financial services and investment protection.

The European Union delegation in Canada said Friday that Harper and Barroso had a constructive meeting and that “There is further approximation of positions,” with both sides planning to remain in contact in the coming weeks with “a view to conclude negotiations.”

Recently leaked documents indicated Canadian negotiators agreed to increase to $1.5-billion the threshold for reviewing foreign acquisitions of Canadian firms by European companies.

All EU takeovers under $1.5-billion would not be subject to review under the Investment Canada Act to determine whether they’re of “net benefit” to Canada, said the documents.

The federal government’s budget bill, passed in the House of Commons in the spring, increases the threshold for a review of foreign acquisitions from the current $344-million to $1-billion over the next four years.

Both sides have agreed to eliminate all industrial tariffs within seven years, saving Canadian exporters more than $200-million annually in duty payments and European exporters more than $600-million annually, said the leaked documents.

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