Canada must offer the European Union broader access to its markets if both sides are to agree a free-trade accord they have been negotiating since 2009, the EU's trade chief said yesterday (21 February).
Canada must offer the European Union broader access to its markets if both sides are to agree a free-trade accord they have been negotiating since 2009, the EU's trade chief said yesterday, speaking in the European Parliament trade committee.
A free-trade agreement with Canada would be the European Union's first such deal with a major world economy. The United States is watching closely because Washington will launch separate trade negotiations with Brussels later this year.
Following the collapse of the Doha world trade talks in 2008, major economies are pushing ahead with bilateral deals to try to drive economic growth through trade when consumers at home are suffering from the aftermath of the global financial crisis and the euro zone debt crisis.
EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht had hoped to wrap up talks for a free-trade agreement with Canada in Ottawa in early February, when he met his Canadian counterpart Ed Fast.
But negotiations are held up over contentious issues including agricultural exports, intellectual property and the ability being to bid for government contracts on both sides of the Atlantic.
"What was on the table was simply not feasible," De Gucht told MEPS when asked by one lawmaker to explain why a deal had not been reached.
"On a number of issues they will have to make additional exceptions," he said, referring to the Canadians.
Rudy Husny, Canadian Minister for International Trade Fast's spokesman, played down any suggestion of an impasse.
Brussels and Ottawa want to reach an agreement as soon as possible "in a way that reflects an appropriate balance of our respective interests", he said.
U.S. President Barack Obama announced last week his intention to push for a free-trade pact with the European Union, which is also shared by the EU's 27 leaders who want to tap a market 10 times the size of Canada's.
Canada, which says free trade with the EU would boost bilateral trade by 20%, wants to diversify its trade away from the United States, which takes 75 percent of all Canadian exports. The EU takes just over 10 percent.
But EU import tariffs effectively have shut Canada out of a European market that consumes 8 million tonnes of beef products a year. The Europeans want Canada to extend patent protection for major pharmaceutical companies, accept more EU dairy products and open up internal procurement markets.
The Commission and the Canadian government want to wrap up a deal soon because the European Parliament, which must sign off on any agreement, is due to hold elections 2014 and the change in lawmakers could delay ratification.
After nearly three years of negotiations, Canada and the European Union are close to reaching a final agreement. But a handful of politically tricky issues remain unresolved, including access for Canadian beef and cars in Europe, how much duty-free European cheese gets into Canada, plus pharmaceutical patents and government contracts.
Both sides have good reasons to want a deal soon. Europe wants to lay the groundwork for its looming negotiations with the United States, expected to start in June. Brussels is also poised to open trade talks with Japan in April.