ENNISKILLEN, Northern Ireland – Canada has publicly been called on the carpet by the European Union for holding up free-trade talks.
EU trade spokesman John Clancy took the unusual step Tuesday of criticizing Canada as the G8 summit in Northern Ireland came to a close.
“We are very close to an agreement,” Clancy said in a statement. “The EU has shown pragmatism and flexibility and is ready to take the last steps to achieve a political breakthrough in the negotiations.
“We have been awaiting a similar message from Canada since the trade and agriculture ministers met in Ottawa in early February.”
Among the issues believed to be stalling the talks is duty-free access to European markets for Canadian beef.
Ireland and France — two major beef producers — are believed to have concerns about the amount of Canadian beef allowed into Europe. Canada is said to have balked at the export limit proposed by the Europeans during the talks.
Cranking up the pressure on Canadian negotiators is Monday’s announcement that the European Union and the United States are starting their own free-trade talks.
Some have suggested the European negotiators will now turn their attention to the Americans and give short shrift to Canada.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to Canadian journalists at the lakeside Lough Erne resort, said there are positives and negatives to negotiating with the Europeans at the same time as the Americas.
“In terms of our own negotiations, I think you could say maybe there are some advantages, maybe there are some disadvantages,” Harper said.
“But I don’t think it changes the fundamental calculus, which is we should stay at the table until we get a deal that’s in the best interests of Canadians. We’re not quite there, but we continue to make progress and we continue to be committed to progress.”
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired the G8 summit, suggested there had been a breakthrough of sorts over the past two days.
“The negotiations, as I can see it, have been going well,” Cameron said. “I think they are really nearly over. There just wasn’t quite enough flexibility right here in Lough Erne to do the final deal.”
The British prime minister said only a couple of issues remain.
“One more go and it will be there,” he said. “It wasn’t possible to do it right here, that’s a pity.
“But the pressure of this G8, I think, really got through all the final issues. It’s now down to the last few yards, and I’m sure it will be done.”
The U.S.-EU talks will not overshadow the Canadian negotiations, he added.
“I don’t think it will be sideswiped … by the EU-U.S. trade deal, which is just starting, but I would think that it’s in everyone’s interest to get this one done and dusted before other things start kicking off,” Cameron said.
In Ottawa, a spokesman for International Trade Minister Ed Fast said Canada remains committed to an agreement that benefits both sides.
“Canada has made robust offers in good faith that address the EU’s key interests,” Adam Taylor wrote in an email. “Canadians expect to be provided the same by the EU.
“We continue to make this clear to our EU counterparts. We will only sign a deal that advances Canada’s priorities.”
© The Canadian Press, 2013