Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper probably won’t sign a free trade agreement with the European Union during his trip to Europe next week, his chief spokesman said.
The two sides haven’t reached an agreement that Canada is prepared to accept, Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications, told reporters today in Ottawa. MacDougall said there are a few issues still left to agree on, without specifying.
“We’re not there yet,” MacDougall said at a briefing with reporters. “We have not reached an agreement that Canada is comfortable yet and we’re going to keep pushing hard until we do.”
The proposed pact is a test of Harper’s efforts to diversify Canada’s trade away from the U.S., its largest trading partner. The two sides have struggled to close a deal because of differences over agricultural goods, procurement and financial services. When talks began in 2009, Canada had been hoping for an agreement by as early as 2011.
The biggest sticking point for Canada is access to the single market for the country’s beef and pork producers, a person with knowledge of the negotiations said this week. European officials may be trying to use Harper’s visit to pressure Canada into accepting unfavorable terms, said the person, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the talks aren’t public.
Harper is traveling to Europe on an eight-day trip that will take him to London, Paris and Dublin before a stop in Northern Ireland for a summit of Group of Eight leaders. Ireland holds the EU’s rotating presidency.
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