July 15, 2011 / 12:15 PM / 6 years ago

EU, Canada tout progress in free trade talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Talks on a free-trade pact between Europe and Canada made significant progress this week, but the proposed transatlantic agreement will still need further work, the EU’s trade spokesman said on Friday.

“While a number of issues remain complex and will need further work over the coming months, significant progress was made across the board, including on goods, services and public procurement,” EU trade spokesman John Clancy said in a statement.

“In particular, market access offers have been exchanged in goods and public procurement. The negotiations remain fully on track and negotiators remain confident to reach a very ambitious agreement,” Clancy added.

Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said the two sides would present their offers on services and investment before the next round of negotiations in Ottawa in October.

Negotiators have been hoping to strike a deal this year, but sources briefed on the issue said the two sides had disagreed in this week’s talks on how to open up public contracts and services markets.

Despite the setback, Canada continues to aim for a finalized pact by the start of 2012, according to a spokesman for Fast.

For Ottawa the talks are the most ambitious trade initiative since the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994. Officials hope a deal will help exporters diversify trade away from the flagging U.S. market.

“... While some issues still need to be resolved, our government is vigorously defending Canada’s interests to ensure that any agreement we sign benefits Canadian workers, businesses and their families,” Fast said in a statement.

The appetite for a deal remains strong among EU and Canadian businesses, but some opponents say a trade agreement would boost the exploitation of oil sands deposits in Canada, a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Other critics reject the opening up of sensitive sectors such as water, health and defense to market competition.

Also on the table are intellectual property-rights issues such as data protection and patent-term restoration, where Canada is lagging behind other developed countries, said Patrick Kierans, who heads the pharmaceuticals and life sciences practice at global law firm Norton Rose Group. This is a concern for drug companies.

“To be competitive, to attract investment, we have to have protection that is considered world class,” Kierans said in Toronto. “What we really need is an equal playing field.”

Canada offers eight years of patent protection, he said. That compares with 10 years in the European Union, he added, noting that two years can prove crucial in drug research.

Also, Canada does not offer patent-term restoration, which gives retroactive patent protection for the period between the application for a patent and granting of a patent.

“If European companies come to Canada, they are going to get less protection than they do in Europe. Canada needs to bring its patent laws up to global standards,” Kierans said.

Reporting by Louise Egan in Ottawa, S. John Tilak in Toronto and the Brussels newsroom; editing by Rob Wilson and Peter Galloway

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