Canada and EU down to final issues in trade talks

Canadian officials are preparing to announce "an agreement in principle" has been reached in free trade negotiatians with the European Union and that technical issues will be worked out later.

Federal government wants deal - or something very close to a deal - by mid-June

Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird, right, met with Germany's Minister of Foreign Affairs Guido Westerwelle in Ottawa Thursday. Both expressed support for a Canada-EU trade deal that is said to be in its final stages of negotiation. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

Canadian negotiators working on the Canada-EU Trade Agreement have been told they are staying in Brussels until the deal is done.

Sources familiar with the negotiations say the two sides are very close and only a few details remain to be worked out.

However, there is pressure to make an announcement — any kind of announcement — before mid-June.

At the next G8 leaders meeting, starting June 17, U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to announce the launch of formal negotiations between his country and the European Union for their own trade deal, a move that will cause political and logistical problems for Canadian negotiators if they haven't wrapped up their own work.

CBC News has learned the federal government is strongly considering announcing in the coming weeks that Canada and the EU have concluded "an agreement in principle."

Sources familiar with the plan say it is a highly unusual move for such talks, but is meant as a back-up plan in the event a comprehensive agreement isn't reached by the mid-June deadline.

Canadian government officials are said to be already preparing a communications plan to sell Canadian voters and businesses on having an agreement in principle with Europe that needs only to work through some "technical issues."

Beef, drugs — and fish

Those issues are said to include access to the European beef market and changes to intellectual property regulations around pharmaceuticals.

Sources say the language and principles of these issues have largely been settled — all that's missing are the numbers.

In the case of beef, for example, just how much Canada will be allowed to ship to Europe still needs to be defined. For pharmaceuticals, the dispute is over how long brand-name drugs will enjoy patent protection before cheaper generics are allowed into a given market.

Another sticking point was revealed Thursday, when Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Kathy Dunderdale accused the federal government of undermining her province's position in the sensitive negotiations.

Newfoundland and Labrador is under pressure to relax rules requiring a minimum amount of fish caught in its waters by foreign boats to be processed in the province.

"A couple of weeks ago we had become aware that there had been a breach of confidentiality in these talks — that our position had been given to another party," Dunderdale said in an interview with CBC News.

"And we have proof that that party was told they could disclose our position and create a lobby within the country to put pressure on Newfoundland and Labrador to change our position," she continued.

Dunderdale said that was unacceptable but she elected to stay at the table to ensure her province's interests still had a voice — for now. "When Newfoundland and Labrador's interests aren't being well-served anymore — that's when we walk away. Absolutely, no question."

Rudy Husny, spokesperson for International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said in response to Dunderdale that the federal government continues to look for a deal that is in the best interests of all Canadians.

"We continue to work collaboratively with Newfoundland and Labrador, to protect and create jobs in the province, and to ensure that all Newfoundlanders and Labradorians continue to benefit from the province's world-class resources," Husny added.

Sources involved in the negotiations have told CBC News that getting the provinces on-side for the agreement would be one of the last steps before concluding negotiations — which explains the flurry of activity at the provincial level at the moment.

Foreign ministers voice support

"We are very keen and eager to conclude, successfully conclude, those discussions to help send an important message on trade and open economies and the great capacity that has for economic growth in both of our countries," Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird said during a news conference with his German counterpart, Guido Westerwelle, Thursday.

"These negotiations are long, they are painstaking, the difficult issues are always the ones on the table at the end of the day," said Baird.

"We are optimistic that if we keep working hard that we can get an ambitious deal that will send a powerful message for market liberalization and economic growth."

Westerwelle said Germany supports "the rapid conclusion of a comprehensive and ambitious free trade agreement between the European Union and Canada."

"Europeans and Canadians will only be able to assert their common values and interests if they work closely together — and this is a big difference to many other partnerships we have worldwide," he told reporters during his news conference with Baird. 

"We firmly believe in the enormous economic and political benefits of such an agreement with new economic powers rising."


  • This story has been edited from an earlier version which incorrectly stated that the federal government was asking at least some provinces to sign a letter of support for CETA. In fact, the federal government is approaching provinces to clarify their positions on the deal and at least one province suggested writing a letter or letters of support as an option.
    May 31, 2013 12:17 PM ET


James Fitz-Morris

Parliament Hill

James Fitz-Morris covered federal politics in CBC's Parliament Hill bureau from 2006 to February, 2016.