Minister of International Trade Ed Fast says the federal government is still aiming to conclude a free trade agreement with the European Union by the end of 2012, despite a recent suggestion the negotiations could drag into the new year.

"We set a goal," Fast said in an interview to be broadcast on CTV's Question Period Sunday, explaining that negotiators have already concluded nine rounds of talks. "We would like to have this agreement concluded in 2012, we're still aiming for that."

  • Question Period airs on CTV Sunday at 11 a.m. in Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba; 12 p.m. in Atlantic Canada; 2 p.m. in British Columbia; 3 p.m. in Alberta and Saskatchewan.

In comments last week, the European Union's ambassador to Canada said the talks were getting down to "crunch time" as, after three years of negotiations, several issues remain unresolved.

"The most difficult issues, we always keep them until the end," Matthias Brinkmann said, referring to such contentious issues as patent protection for pharmaceuticals, market access for agricultural products and foreign investment rules.

"You know what I know that both parties so far have brought a very high level of good will and ambition to the table and I'm hoping we can get this done this year ," Fast tells CTV's Kevin Newman. " There's still lots of negotiations that will have to take place. But at the end of the day we've made a clear commitment: we're not going to sign off on any agreement unless it represents the best interests of Canadians going forward. "

Prime Minister Stephen Harper's ruling Conservatives have touted the proposed Canada-EU free trade deal as a boon to the Canadian economy, representing some 80,000 new jobs and an annual injection of $12 billion.

If a deal is agreed, it would likely have to be approved by the European Parliament as well as the national legislatures of its 27 member nations before becoming law.

What does Minister Fast think are the major challenges in advancing trade deals with China? Tune into Question Period on CTV Sunday, to see his complete interview with host Kevin Newman.