* Canada-EU talks have dragged for 18 months
* EU now turning its attention to talks with U.S.
OTTAWA May 6 Canada is close to finalizing a
long-delayed free-trade deal with the European Union but will
not set a timetable for reaching an agreement, even though the
EU is set to start talks with the United States, a top official
said on Monday.
Ottawa and Brussels started negotiations to open up access
to each other's economies in 2009 and a deal was supposed to be
concluded by the end of 2011.
That deadline was pushed back to the end of 2012 but the two
sides are still trying to resolve differences over how much beef
Canada can export and how much freedom EU companies will have to
bid for Canadian government contracts.
"Our negotiators ... (are) bridging the very small remaining
handful of issues. These are difficult discussions but our
negotiators are finding creative ways of bridging the
outstanding gaps," said Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast.
EU officials say the bloc is already starting to switch its
attention to the start of talks on a free-trade deal with the
United States, which has an economy 10 times the size of
Canada's, in July.
"Our conclusion of these negotiations will not be driven
primarily by a calendar or a timetable. It will be driven by the
quality of the deal," Fast told the House of Commons trade
Canadian and EU officials say a deal could generate around
$28 billion in trade and new business a year.
Fast later told reporters that the two sides were making
"excellent progress" but declined to give more details.
Negotiators from the two sides started a three-day meeting in
Brussels on Monday.
(Reporting by David Ljunggren; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)