OTTAWA (Reuters) - Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said on Wednesday his government would not be rushed into signing a free trade agreement with the European Union this week just to coincide with meetings he is holding with European leaders.
Harper was speaking to reporters in London on the first leg of a European tour that will take him also to France and Ireland, which holds the European presidency, as well as to Northern Ireland, where he will attend a summit of the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations and the European Union.
Harper's spokesman, Andrew MacDougall, said on Friday that free-trade talks with the EU were down to the last few issues but that he did not expect a deal to be signed this week, and Harper signaled on Wednesday that he would not be rushed.
"We are not going to set a timeline or a fixed date on which we are going to have an agreement because it is essential that we be driven by the contents of the discussions, and we will not arrive at an accord until such time as we think we have the best accord we can get for the Canadian people," he said.
Beyond the increased market access that will result from an agreement, both sides have incentives to reach a deal quickly. Harper has placed a high priority on expanding trade to boost growth, and success would help counter a couple months of bad political news for his Conservative government. A deal would also provide a possible template for the European Union in its negotiations to reach a free trade agreement with the United States.
Canadian demands for much greater European market access for its beef access have been a major obstacle to reaching a deal.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway