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EU free-trade talks still on track, minister says

EU free-trade talks still on track, minister says

‘We need to negotiate the very best agreement’

POSTMEDIA NEWSFEBRUARY 29, 2012

International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Tuesday negotiations for a free-trade agreement with the European Union remain on track, and should be completed by the end of this year.

Speaking to reporters following talks in Ottawa with his provincial and territorial counterparts, Fast said, “There is no larger integrated economy in the world than the European Union (and) … there is no more important Canadian trade negotiating priority” than reaching a trade agreement with the region.

He said Canada-EU trade talks are expected to wrap up “sometime within 2012.”

“Today, we met to discuss Canada’s international trade agenda and to exchange ideas on providing Canadian businesses and workers with the best possible access to lucrative markets around the world,” he said in a prepared statement. Canadian trade ministers on Tuesday “endorsed the need for trade diversification efforts to focus on high-growth markets around the world, such as China and India, and agreed that a collaborative approach, involving the federal government, the provinces and the territories, would maximize the benefits for businesses looking to expand and succeed abroad.”

Fast said that given the EU has more than 500 million consumers and a combined GDP in excess of $17 trillion, “the potential of this agreement is enormous.”

However, when asked why the completion of trade talks had been put back from an earlier target of summer 2012, Fast responded: “There is no delay. We’ve always said that we expected that, or we were hoping, and it was our aim, that we would complete negotiations in 2012.

“One thing I don’t want to do is put an arbitrary timeline on our negotiations. We need to negotiate the very best agreement for Canada, and if that takes a couple extra months, so be it,” he said.

“I’m not going to negotiate an agreement and I’m not going to sign off on an agreement unless it is indeed in the very best interest of Canadians.”

Fast was asked why Canada was focusing on free trade with other countries and regions when barriers to the movement of goods and service still exist between Canadian provinces.

“Those two concepts are not mutually exclusive. I think we can do both … Much of the decision-making related to provincial barriers is within the jurisdiction of the provinces. As a federal government, we’re realizing that some of our key competitors around the world have very aggressive trade strategies. Canada cannot be left behind.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire right now and we’re looking to do it responsibly. We’re looking to make sure that every single trade negotiation we enter into and every single trade agreement we sign is in the best interest of Canada,” he said.

“We will never compromise the interest of Canadians in searching out new free trade agreements.”

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