Free trade talks with EU resume next month; deal is 'very close,' minister says
Minister of International Trade Ed Fast responds to a question during question period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Wednesday June 5, 2013. (CP / Sean Kilpatrick)
Published Wednesday, August 21, 2013 11:29AM EDT
Last Updated Wednesday, August 21, 2013 12:32PM EDT
OTTAWA -- Canadian trade minister Ed Fast says negotiations with the European Union are re-launching early next month in a final push to complete a comprehensive deal, adding all that is needed is a "little flexibility" on both sides.
"Early in September we will be re-engaging and there's no reason to believe that with a little bit of flexibility on both sides that we can't resolve the remaining outstanding issues," Fast said.
"There's only a very small handful of outstanding issues and we're trying to bring some creative approaches to try to bridge those gaps."
He gave no specifics but sources have said the major stumbling blocks include the EU's reluctance to allow more access for Canadian beef and pork, outstanding issues on drug patents, financial services and provincial procurements.
"We're getting very close," Fast said in a telephone interview from Brunei, where the minister was engaged in two other trade liberalizing initiatives with the 10-nation ASEAN pact and the 12-country TransPacific Partnership.
The Asia-Pacific region includes some of the world's fastest-growing major economies, while the European Union represents major countries such as Germany, Italy and the U.K. with long trading relationships with Canada.
Following the failure of the Doha round at the World Trade Organization, Fast said Canada is casting a wide net on its trade agenda, including reaching deals at the TPP and ASEAN, both of which have larger markets than Europe.
The government is also in talks with India and Japan and is expected to add Thailand on its list soon.
The United States has been pushing to conclude TransPacific Partnership talks by the end of 2013, but analysts remain skeptical given that the White House has as yet secure Congressional approval for so-called "fast track" legislation.
Fast agreed that the TPP is not at the advanced stage of the European talks, but did not rule out a conclusion of the technical talks this year.
Last week, New Zealand's ambassador to Washington said he believes the U.S. is focused on the TPP and may be prepared to make concessions on market access to their sensitive industries, including dairy, sugar, and textiles and apparel.
Ambassador Michael Moore said any concessions that Washington makes on dairy would be offset by securing greater access for their producers to the Canadian and Japanese markets.
That would be problematic for the Canadian government, which has pledged to support its supply management system on dairy, eggs and poultry, although it is apparent it will allow more European cheese into under a treaty with the E.U.
Fast said it's important that the Canadian government pursues all the trade market access opportunities, although the EU deal remains its No. 1 goal.
The European talks are at the most advanced level and Fast said Wednesday that he's most confident that they could be completed this year.
Ottawa has estimated the benefits for the economy could rise to $12 billion annually under a European trade pact, but the potential in Asia -- one of the world's fastest growing markets -- is also enormous, Fast said.
"This is a region whose population is young, it's dynamic, it's forward looking, has high growth rates and that's why we're putting a special emphasis," he explained.
"Much of Canadian focus has been on our second-largest trading partner, which is China, but ... in fact our total Canadian investments in ASEAN is greater than the combined investments we have with India and China."
The government says bilateral trade with the ASEAN expanded by almost 20 per cent between 2007 and 2012, with Canadian direct investment reaching almost $7 billion last year. The engagement with TPP trade is far greater but most involves Canada-U.S. trade.