OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper faced renewed calls Friday to pull back the veil shrouding the controversial Canada-Europe free trade talks after saying that "significant gaps" remain.

Harper expressed that view after his 45-minute meeting Friday with European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on the margins of the G20 summit in Russia.

Harper had intended to give the Europeans a friendly but firm nudge on the four-year-old talks. But as he made clear, a deal is not imminent.

"At the one level, we're very close on a number of issues, but I do have to say that based on the meeting we had today and some recent discussions, we still have some very significant gaps that have not been bridged," Harper said before departing for Ottawa.

"And that is the reality of the situation."

The Harper government has faced heavy criticism for negotiating the wide-ranging pact behind closed doors, with no public accountability.

The government has revealed little in public about the negotiations, sparking widespread criticism.

In contrast, the Europeans get periodic updates through the European Parliament.

NDP trade critic Don Davies highlighted the fact that Peter Stastny, the EU's rapporteur on the negotiations, briefed a committee of the European Parliament in Brussels on Thursday.

Davies renewed the call for a similar briefing for Canadian MPs, but wasn't optimistic.

"Any time we put forward a motion at the trade committee to ask for a briefing, the Conservatives run and hide and go in-camera. They won't even debate the motion to have a briefing in public," he said in an interview.

Trade analyst Stuart Trew of the Council of Canadians called on the government to publicly air details surrounding the negotiations in Parliament.

"We don't think that's a decision the Conservative caucus should be allowed to make on its own," he said.

"We expect Parliament and the public to be able to review, alter and even reject the EU deal if it's found not to be in the public interest."

Davies said he was concerned by Stastny's assessment that Harper's office was sounding more "conciliatory" about the possibility of a deal.

"I'm hoping that the Canadian government is not just conceding to get a deal done."

Stastny — known in sports circles as a forward for the national team of the former Czechoslovakia, and for several NHL teams, including the now-defunct Quebec Nordiques — said he was more optimistic than he was several months ago.

He characterized the distance that remained in agriculture, intellectual property and provincial procurements as "minor issues that should be and could be solved."

The fact that anyone from Europe has bothered to hint at progress in the contentious agricultural sector was music to the ears the Canadian Cattlemen's Association.

"He's not just a great hockey player, he's a real sharp guy in terms of economic policy," John Masswohl, director of government relations for the association, said in an interview Friday.

"That was the first time I had actually heard an acknowledgment from the EU side that the Canadian meat sector had actually made some concessions, and was being reasonable, which we've been doing all along."

One of the most persistent gaps in the negotiations has been balancing Europe's desire to win greater access for cheese producers with Canada's demand for greater access for its Canadian beef and pork exports.

The comprehensive trade agreement between Canada and the EU has been stalled for much of this year, and the slow pace has frustrated the Conservative government.

European officials have also expressed frustration, and have attempted to break the impasse by publicly suggesting Canada is to blame for dragging out the talks.

Both sides have said major gaps remain in agriculture, intellectual property rules on drug patents and provincial procurement.

Leaked documents previously obtained by The Canadian Press describe how procurement would be liberalized to allow European firms access to Ontario and Quebec's public hydro sectors, and freedom to bid on provincial and municipal tendering, as well as on universities, schools and hospital contracts.

Harper didn't give specifics, but he suggested the provinces are not comfortable with the current state of play.

"As I've said all along, we want to see a deal. ... This would first of all be the biggest trade deal in Canadian history if we could get it done," he said.

"But we've got to get it done in a way that, in our opinion, and in the opinion of all the provinces, which are our partners in this, serve the broader interests of Canadians and the Canadian economy.

"And we are not there as of now."

Loading Slideshow...
  • Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    From the left: Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron talk as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, center in front, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, front right, walk down the stairs as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Herman Van Rompuy, Barack Obama, Manmohan Singh

    European Union Council President Herman Van Rompuy, left, and U.S. President Barack Obama, center, talk as India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watches the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • David Cameron, Angela Merkel

    Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, center, and British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, arrive for a Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Vladimir Putin

    Russia's President Vladimir Putin, center, arrives for a Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Jose Manuel Barroso, Herman Van Rompuy, Barack Obama, Manmohan Singh

    From the left: European Union Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, European Union Council President Herman Van Rompuy, U.S. President Barack Obama and India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh watch the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Actors perform during a light and water show for the G-20 leaders at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Fireworks and a light and water show illuminate during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, looks at her cell phone as Russian President Vladimir Putin, center, drinks and British Prime Minister David Cameron looks on as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Fireworks and a light and water show illuminate during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Fireworks and a light and water show illuminate during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Fireworks and a light and water show illuminate during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Vladimir Putin, David Cameron

    Russian President Vladimir Putin and British Prime Minister David Cameron, right, warm themselves as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama arrives for a Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, covers Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warm blanket as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. British Prime Minister David Cameron is on the right. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama, center, arrives for a Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at the Grand Palace in Peterhof, the czarist summer estate outside St. Petersburg, Russia, early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, covers Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warm blanket as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. British Prime Minister David Cameron is on the right. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin

    President Barack Obama shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin during arrivals for the G-20 summit at the Konstantin Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Pool)

  • Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel , David Cameron

    Russian President Vladimir Putin, second right, covers Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel warm blanket as they arrived for the Water and Music Show during the G-20 summit at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on early Friday, Sept. 6, 2013. British Prime Minister David Cameron is on the right. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama smiles as he walks to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama, right, walks to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Dmitry Lovetsky)

  • David Cameron, Francois Hollande

    French President Francois Hollande, second left, speaks with British Prime Minister David Cameron, left, as they walk to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Recep Tayyip Erdogan

    Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, walks with other G-20 leaders to a dinner event that will take place at the Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)

  • Christine Lagarde, Ban Ki-moon

    From left, South Korea's President Park Guen-hye, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde walk to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Vladimir Putin, Christina Fernandez de Kirchner

    Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, left, speaks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin as they walk to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Francois Hollande, Angela Merkel, David Cameron, Herman Van Rompuy

    From left, British Prime Minister David Cameron, French President Francois Hollande, Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Herman Van Rompuy walk to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama waves as he walks to a dinner event that will take place with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Dilma Rousseff

    Brazil's President Dilma Rousseff departs for a dinner with other G-20 leaders at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

  • Barack Obama

    U.S. President Barack Obama, center, walks with other G-20 leaders in the background as they depart for a dinner at Peterhof Palace in St. Petersburg, Russia on Thursday, Sept. 5, 2013. The threat of missiles over the Mediterranean is weighing on world leaders meeting on the shores of the Baltic this week, and eclipsing economic battles that usually dominate when the G-20 world economies meet. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)