Harper close to reaching trade deal between EU and Canada
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will travel to Brussels on Thursday to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso ``with the goal of concluding the CETA negotiations.''
Canada has reached a framework agreement with the European Union on establishing a comprehensive free trade zone encompassing virtually every sector of economic activity, with an official ceremony expected Friday.
After a day of leaks that a deal in principle had been reached, the prime minister's office all but confirmed the occasion Wednesday evening by announcing Stephen Harper would travel to Brussels on Thursday to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso ``with the goal of concluding the CETA negotiations.'' Earlier in the day, both Harper and Barroso tweeted that they expected an agreement ``soon.''
The promise was repeated in the throne speech, which was delivered by the Governor General in the afternoon.
Although observers have been predicting a conclusion to the four-year-talks at various stages during the past year, an agreement always seemed to elude negotiators, particularly on the difficult agriculture issues.
Sources say the final breakthrough came in the past few days after Canada agreed to double its quota on EU cheese exports in return for greater access for Canadian beef and pork.
The news of the compromise angered the association representing dairy farmers, which quickly issued a news release denouncing the ``giveaway.'' The organization estimated the quota hike would give the EU exclusive access to 32 per cent of Canada's ``fine cheese'' market.
Although the increased quota would allow about 13,500 tonnes of cheese into Canada, the government said in the throne speech that it continues to support the country's supply management system, which is designed to protect dairy, eggs and poultry producers.
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau said they would reserve judgment until they see the text, but Mulcair added he was concerned the government was ``throwing Canadian dairy farmers under the bus.''
Kathleen Sullivan, executive director of the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance, predicted agriculture package would boost exports of Canadian beef and pork by $1 billion annually, with another $300 million in shipments of other food products, such as grains, processed food and maple syrup.
Canadian beef and pork producers will need to ramp up production of hormone-free livestock in order to meet EU safety standards, but Sullivan said the potential was there to make Europe one of the leading markets for Canadian beef, and among the top five markets for pork.