Canada is poised to wrap up talks on a free trade agreement with the European Union, the largest trade deal the country has negotiated since NAFTA.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted on Wednesday morning that negotiations on the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) will be completed “soon.”
The trade deal is expected to generate some $28 billion in new trade annually.
“Good progress has been made in the last days and we are closer to a deal,” the spokesperson for the EU’s trade delegation, Diodora Bucur, told The Huffington Post Canada.
The Harper government initially wanted a deal hammered out by the end of 2011, Reuters reports, but numerous stumbling blocks held up the agreement.
Among issues of contention were the EU’s insistence that Canada extend drug patents; access for Canadian farmers to European beef and pork markets; and Canada’s reluctance to sign a human-rights side agreement that the EU is making a part of all its trade deals.
At times the talks turned tense, with EU officials occasionally castigating the Harper government for what it perceived as foot-dragging.
The deal now has to go to the provinces for approval.
“We received the details yesterday and we're currently reviewing them,” Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynn’s press secretary Zita Astravas told HuffPost.
According to the National Post, negotiators broke through a major roadlock when Canada agreed to allow a doubling of cheese imports from the EU, that has already upset some dairy farmers.
"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," Dairy Farmers of Canada president Wally Smith in a statement obtained by Reuters.
The government says the doubled European imports — which will amount to about 30,000 tonnes annually — will still only account for about four per cent of domestic cheese consumption, so local producers likely won’t feel much impact.
“In these discussions, the system of supply management has been completely protected and Canada has gained unfettered access for Canadian dairy products into the largest, most lucrative market in the world,” Trade Minister Ed Fast’s office told the National Post.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair called on the government to release the text of the deal, if it did in fact have a deal.
“We sincerely hope that Stephen Harper’s not selling out the Canadian dairy industry in general and the fine cheese manufacturers in particular,” Mulcair told reporters Wednesday. “We’re very concerned with what we’re hearing because that could be the result, a lot of jobs lost in Canada, and a lot of farmers would be put in danger of losing their whole business.”
According to La Presse, Canada and the EU are planning to formally announce the EU trade deal before the end of the month, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper tentatively pencilling in Oct. 18 as the announcement date.
The Post reports the cheese agreement could prove problematic in Quebec, which has a large concentration of dairy farmers and whose premier, Pauline Marois, has said she would oppose any deal that is “unacceptable” to the province.
Some public policy groups argue that CETA places corporate rights and business interests ahead of consumers.
“The Harper government sees CETA as a way to further deregulate and privatize the Canadian economy while increasing corporate power and undermining our democratic options for the future,” the Council of Canadians says on its website.
If it comes into force, “CETA could unfairly restrict how local governments spend money and ban ‘buy local’ policies, add up to $3 billion to the price of drugs, create pressure to increase privatization of local water systems, transit and energy, and much more,” the left-leaning group says.
It wants provincial governments to give the proposed CETA deal a full legislative debate and public review.
“If the people and our elected officials don’t demand to see and make changes to CETA now, there won’t be an opportunity later,” said the Council of Canadians’ Stuart Trew.
— With files from Althia Raj
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