Minister of Foreign Affairs John Baird is telling his European counterparts not to negotiate the Canada-EU free trade deal in the press — and the minister is saying it in the press.
“I don’t think any sensible or intelligent democracy with an open economy is going to negotiate a free trade deal through the media,” Baird said in an interview with iPolitics.
Baird’s comments come amid a growing public divide between Canadian and European Union diplomats over the details of a long-awaited trade agreement, the largest Canada has attempted since NAFTA.
In a public rebuke to Canadian negotiators, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told the European Parliament last week the trade deal could be scrapped if Canada doesn’t offer more concessions to European demands.
“What was on the table simply didn’t please me, so I didn’t make an agreement,” De Gucht said, as quoted at Bloomberg News. “They need to make additional steps and, if not, there will not be an agreement.”
Trade Minister Ed Fast’s office responded quickly, telling the Globe and Mail that the European side hasn’t met “core” Canadian demands, either.
Baird’s comments come amid revelations that the two negotiating sides may be farther apart than previously thought.
According to a chapter of the draft agreement obtained by The Canadian Press, the EU is pressuring Canada to give up its stringent banking regulations, which are designed to ensure financial stability and restrict foreign control of financial institutions.
While both sides are interested in opening up new markets for their financial companies, Canadian negotiators are resisting attempts to open up the banking sector, and the Harper government is making it clear it’s not interested in doing away with a regulatory system that many credit for saving Canadian banks from the sort of fiscal disasters suffered by U.S. and European banks during the financial crisis of 2008.
"The strength of Canada’s financial institutions throughout the most recent global economic crisis reflects the strength and soundness of Canada’s regulatory framework," said Adam Taylor, a spokesperson for Trade Minister Ed Fast.
"In fact, for five straight years the World Economic Forum has said Canada has the soundest banking system in the world."
Many other sticking points remain as well, including the EU’s demand that Canada dismantle its supply management system for poultry, eggs and milk, and longer patent protections for drugs.
Canada wants better access to Europe’s pork and beef markets, which are protected from competition by EU regulations, and lower import duties on Canadian-made cars.
Experts say Canada is under pressure to complete a free trade deal with the EU because the U.S. and the European Union are launching their own free trade talks. Those talks could result in a massive transatlantic free trade area that Canada could be left out of.
“It puts the squeeze on us to get going and finish our deal with the EU,” former Canadian trade negotiator John Weekes told the Globe and Mail.
For opponents of a free trade deal with the EU, the recent spat and the revelations about differences on banking rules strengthen the argument that Canada should walk away from the table.
“Leaked documents from November 2012 suggest the Harper government has thrown Canadian municipalities under the bus, forever banning ‘buy local’ and other sustainable purchasing policies that help create jobs, protect the environment and support local farmers and local businesses,” the Council of Canadian said in a statement last week.
“Clearly we are coming to the end of this road,” Council of Canadian head Maude Barlow said. “Canadians don’t want CETA. Dozens of municipalities are opposed and we know there is deep resistance inside a number of provinces.”
— With files from The Canadian Press
Data comes from <a href="http://www.tpsgc-pwgsc.gc.ca/recgen/txt/72-eng.html">Public Accounts of Canada 2012</a>. According to the report, the statement "presents the international travel expenditures incurred by ministers, parliamentary secretaries, and ministers’ staff where the travel is required for departmental operational or program purposes only."
5. Bev Oda - $ 168,962
Former Minister of International Co-operation
4. John Baird - $216,944
Minister of Foreign Affairs
3. Peter MacKay - $246,587
Minister of National Defence
2. Jim Flaherty - $290,731
Minister of Finance
1. Ed Fast - $350,800
Minister for International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway