European Union Finalizes Trade Deal with Canada

But hopes that another transatlantic trade pact, with the United States, may be signed soon are premature.

Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy address a news conference in Brussels, May 5, 2010
Canadian prime minister Stephen Harper and European Council president Herman Van Rompuy address a news conference in Brussels, May 5, 2010 (The Council of the European Union)

Canada and the European Union cleared the way toward ratification of a comprehensive trade agreement on Friday although France, which is stalling talks for a similar pact with the United States, signaled some reservations about the influx of Canadian beef.

“I am waiting for confirmation from the commission that this accord, particularly in agriculture, does not set a precedent for talks with the United States,” said France’s trade minister Nicole Bricq at a meeting with her European counterparts in Luxembourg.

The deal with Canada, which eliminates tariffs on almost all goods and services and is expected to increase bilateral trade by more than €25 billion per year, will give French cheese makers easier access to markets across the Atlantic. Canada’s dairy industry had resisted raising the quota for European imports but the provincial government of Quebec, which produces half of the country’s cheese, said Prime Minister Stephen Harper had agreed to compensate producers for any losses they suffered as a result of the treaty.

“This is the biggest deal our country has ever made,” Harper said in Brussels, adding that it outstripped the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, Mexico and the United States.

The deal is also a breakthrough for Europe’s free-trade agenda which had previously achieved only smaller agreements with Singapore and South Korea. Proponents hope that it will boost the chances for an investment and trade accord between Europe and the United States which could add half a percentage point to the national incomes of both economic blocs every year. Negotiations were set back earlier this month as a result of the federal government shutdown in Washington DC. Renewed talks could be frustrated by French resistance to freer trade.

In July, France persuaded the other European Union member states to exclude Internet services, film and television from the transatlantic trade talks, threatening to block the process altogether if the “cultural exception” was abandoned.

As one of the largest recipients of European agricultural subsidies, France also insists on “red lines” against importing genetically modified crops and chemically cleansed meat. “France will be extremely vigilant to ensure that the red lines set out in the [negotiating] mandate given to the European Commission are fully taken into account,” ruling Socialist Party lawmaker Stéphane Le Foll told the Financial Times.

While common in the United States, genetically enhanced foods are controversial across Southern and Western Europe. France has banned genetically modified crops altogether.

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