Harper keen to strike EU trade deal

ottawa / reuters / There are still obstacles to a Canada-European Union free trade deal, say the prime ministers of Canada and France, but both said an agreement could smooth the way for a similar EU deal with Washington.

The initial end-2011 timeline to complete the Canada-EU deal has slipped, and a decision from Europe and the United States to begin their own free trade negotiations has put extra pressure on Canada.

“Clearly, I think it’s advantageous for us to have such an agreement before the United States does,” Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after meeting French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault.

“I also think it’s important for the Europeans to have such success in North America before really launching a discussion, which will be in my opinion difficult, with the United States.”

Harper is keen to diversify trade away from the U.S., which takes about three-quarters of all exports but is struggling with low growth.

Both prime ministers said significant progress had been made, but Ayrault said disagreements persist over agricultural exports, intellectual property and cultural diversity.

Canada wants more access to the European market for its beef and pork and the EU has concerns about European poultry.

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