(Releads with Canadian prime minister heading to Brussels for
talks; figures in U.S. dollars unless otherwise stated)
By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA Oct 16 Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper will fly to Brussels on Thursday in a bid to seal a free
trade treaty with the European Union, his office said on
Wednesday, signaling an end to negotiations that have dragged on
much longer than planned.
Canada initially said a deal would be struck by December
2011. It then pushed that back to December 2012 as the two sides
struggled to overcome disagreements over pharmaceuticals,
financial services, patents as well as beef and dairy exports.
Earlier on Wednesday, both sides said they would soon
complete the talks on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade
Agreement(CETA), which officials say could generate around $28
billion in trade and new business each year.
"The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels to meet with the
President of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, with
the goal of concluding the CETA negotiations," said a statement
from Harper's office.
Harper is due to fly out on Thursday and return on Friday.
"They wouldn't make a trip if there wasn't good news to
come," a European official told Reuters.
Canadian negotiators had to balance the needs of a beef
sector which wanted to boost exports to the EU with the concerns
of the dairy sector, which said it feared that domestic cheese
makers could be swamped if the EU quota were raised.
The Dairy Farmers of Canada group expressed anger and
disappointment at an agreement it said would give the EU an
additional 32 percent of the Canadian fine cheese market.
"This deal would displace our local products with subsidized
cheeses from EU and risk our small businesses being shut down or
put out of business. This is unacceptable," Wally Smith, the
president of the Dairy Farmers of Canada, said in a statement.
Canada's Conservative government has over the years stressed
its support for the dairy sector. Many farmers are based in
rural areas that tend to vote Conservative.
The offices of Harper and International Trade Minister Ed
Fast did not immediately respond to the dairy farmers'
"I sincerely hope Stephen Harper is not selling out Canadian
dairy farmers on this ... we're very concerned with what we're
hearing," said Tom Mulcair, leader of the main opposition New
The Canadian Cattlemen's Association said it had calculated
the potential value of Canadian beef exports to the EU to exceed
C$600 million ($582 million) annually.
The Conservatives, who have a majority in the House of
Commons, do not need to face another election until October
2015. Recent polls show them trailing the opposition Liberals
who are led by Justin Trudeau.
Two sources close to the free trade talks told Reuters they
had been informed Canada and the EU could announce they had
struck a deal in principle, allowing negotiators to tackle the
last few remaining problems in private.
"This notion that there would be a tentative deal should be
dispelled. There's no such thing in international trade - you
either have a deal or you don't," Mulcair told reporters.
Canada's 10 provinces and the European Union's 28 members
will also have to approve any agreement.
(With additional reporting by Randall Palmer in Ottawa and Phil
Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Eric Beech, Cynthia Osterman
and Paul Simao)