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SOFIA (Reuters) - Canada will introduce a visa waiver entry for some Bulgarians as of next May and will work to allow visa-free travel for all by the end of next year, the Bulgarian government press office said late on Thursday.
The arrangement is likely to ease Bulgarian concerns about a contentious European Union free trade deal with Canada, which Brussels hopes EU governments would agree to this month.
In May, Bulgaria and Romania expressed reluctance to back the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) if Canada does not apply its visa-waiver entry system to their citizens.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau pledged to lift entry visas for business representatives, prior visitors to Canada and for Bulgarians who hold U.S. visas as of May 1, 2017 in a telephone call to Bulgarian Prime Minister Boiko Borisov.
"The Canadian government will make efforts that all other Bulgarians can travel without visas by the end of 2017," the government press office said in a statement.
The timeline for the full visa-free travel introduction can be extended until May 2018 at the latest if there are technical obstacles in rearranging the entry systems, the press office said.
On Wednesday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that bloc needed to ensure that a deal agreed with Canada two years ago entered into force within months.
Some EU countries, notably Austria, have baulked at accepting the deal after mass demonstrations by labor unions and protest groups who say it will spark a "race to the bottom" in standards and allow big business to challenge governments across Europe.
Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; Editing by Chris Reese