Canadian trade minister expects EU trade pact this year

Wed Mar 13, 2013 2:23pm EDT
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By Edward McAllister

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Canada hopes to sign a long-delayed free trade deal with the European Union this year, though some key disagreements remain which could further postpone it, Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said in an interview in New York on Wednesday.

Fast and his EU counterpart Karel De Gucht met last month to try to iron out differences over agricultural exports, intellectual property and public procurement that have so far kept officials from signing a deal.

But they failed to sign an agreement that Canada says would help diversify Canadian trade away from the United States and boost trade with Europe.

"It is a very small handful of issues that are difficult," Fast told Reuters. "We are trying to identify some creative ways in bridging the gaps between our positions."

He declined to say which issues were causing the delay.

The United States currently takes 75 percent of all Canadian exports, and the EU just over 10 percent. Under an FTA, Canada-EU trade could increase by 20 percent, Canada has said.

FTA talks started in 2009 and were initially expected to conclude by the end of 2011, a date that was pushed back to the end of 2012. Even now, Fast said he will not be pushed by arbitrary deadlines while disagreements remain.

"Understand that it is the quality of the agreement and not a particular calendar date," Fast said. "It has to be in Canada's long term trade interests, otherwise we won't sign a deal."   Continued...

Canada's International Trade Minister Ed Fast speaks during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa October 25, 2012. REUTERS/Chris Wattie