Trade talks with EU said to be in final stages

Trade talks with the European Union have entered an “intense” stage with only specific issues needing to be hammered out, Trade Minister Ed Fast said Tuesday. And perhaps somewhat of a surprise is that the issue of opening up provincial government procurement to outside bidders doesn’t appear to be a sticking point, with both Ontario and B.C. ministers suggesting they are on board.

OTTAWA — Trade talks with the European Union have entered an “intense” stage with only specific issues needing to be hammered out, Trade Minister Ed Fast said Tuesday. And perhaps somewhat of a surprise is that the issue of opening up provincial government procurement to outside bidders doesn’t appear to be a sticking point, with both Ontario and B.C. ministers suggesting they are on board. Fast said reaching an agreement with Europe and its 500 million consumers and $17-trillion economy is Canada’s top trade priority, bigger than China, India or the newly forming Trans-Pacific Partnership. According to a government analysis, a comprehensive trade agreement with the EU could boost the country’s gross domestic product output by $12 billion annually, and create 80,000 new jobs. “We are now into very intense negotiations on the specific issues that remain to be negotiated, on a sector by sector basis,” Fast told reporters after a closed-door meeting with provincial counterparts in Ottawa. “It will likely be the most ambitious agreement that either one of the two parties has ever entered into.” Since talks began in the autumn of 2009, Canada and the EU have conducted nine formal rounds of negotiations and Fast said he doesn’t anticipate a 10th. But the minister would not confirm reports that a deal could be reached as early as April. Instead, he suggested dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s may take longer than anticipated. It is unclear how much provincial resistance can thwart a deal, although Fast has made much of the fact that the Canada-EU talks have been the most co-operative and transparent with regards to the provinces and municipalities in history.

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