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No intelligent democracy wages trade talks in public, Baird says after EU comments

By Michelle Zilio | Feb 28, 2013 11:06 am | iPolitics

Nearly one week after the European Unions (EU) trade commissioner made a public call for more concessions from Canada for a free trade deal, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird firmly said Canada will not negotiate through the media. The minister made the comments in a sit-down interview with iPolitics Tuesday. (Click here to see video) I dont think any sensible or intelligent democracy with an open economy is going to negotiate a free trade deal through the media, said Baird. Were not going to negotiate this through the media. We have a group of very professional public servants who are negotiators. On Feb. 21, EU Trade Commissioner Karel De Gucht told a committee of the European Parliament that while Europe hopes to finalize the trade deal, known as the Canada-EU Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the EU needs to see more concessions from Canada before an agreement can be made. They need to make additional steps and, if not, there will not be an agreement, said De Gucht. As regards the EUs expectations of Canada, De Gucht did not provide any more details. He said he hopes to conclude negotiations rather soon but will only make a deal if its favourable for Europe. Canada and the EU have been in free trade talks since 2009. Until De Guchts testimony, most of the negotiations took place behind closed doors. Baird said he hopes to keep it that way. Well negotiate at the negotiating table, said Baird. We want a big agreement, a robust agreement that will create more jobs in both

Canada and Europe. And well have just as ambitious of an agreement as the Europeans will. The finalized trade deal is already running past Canadas initial deadline. Prime Minister Stephen Harper originally said the agreement would be concluded by the end of 2012. There was hope the EU and Canada would seal the deal when De Gucht visited Ottawa early February, but both sides are holding firm on their respective sensitivities. Amongst the EUs demands are stronger patent protection in the pharmaceutical industry, along with improved access for cheese exports to Canada, and sub-national procurement. For Canada, its about lower duties on Canadian-made cars and improved access for pork and beef exports. But according to a Canadian Press report Wednesday, the stability of Canadas banking system is also on the negotiating table. A leaked draft of the trade talks, circulated amongst EU member states, shows that Canada is struggling to maintain the traditional standards it imposes to protect financial services in Canada from foreign control and financial instability. The report said both sides are trying to negotiate a special mechanism that would resolve disputes arising from new forays into each others financial services markets. According to Mike Gifford, Canadas former chief agricultural trade negotiator, it is not unusual for Commission officials to negotiate in public. This is all part of the reality that trade negotiators are always engaged in two negotiations simultaneously one with the other country and one with the domestic constituency, said Gifford in an email. While the EU Commission has the trade policy responsibility, it still wants to have majority support from the member states. And with the EU elections coming up in 2014, the deadline to finalize a satisfactory trade deal is getting closer by the day.

But once negotiations are complete and a deal is agreed upon, the process is far from complete. Both sides have to conduct a legal review of the text, followed by translation, which is especially complicated for the EU who has to translate the deal into numerous languages for its members states. Following the legal scrubbing and translation, the deals go through a ratification process in the EU and Canada, which can take a least a few months. According to Helen Banner, a press officer for De Gucht, the entire post-negotiation process could take upwards of 18 months. Plus, as Canada goes through this process, the US and Japan are negotiating their own free trade deals with Europe. Gifford said the US deal will put even more pressure on the Canada-EU agreement. Now the US and EU have agreed to FTA negotiations, all constituencies (EU member states) will be super sensitive to the Canada/EU precedents, said Gifford. If and when finalized, the trade deal would give Canada access to the worlds largest market, removing tariffs on approximately 98 per cent of European goods in Canada. The Harper government said the deal will provide the EUs 500 million consumers with open access Canadian products, add $12 billion a year to Canadas economic output, create 80,000 new jobs and increase two-way trade by 20 per cent. However, Canada will not go ahead with the trade deal if its not in the best interest of Canadians, said Baird. At the end of the day though, its got to be in the best interest of Canada We want a deal thats going to create jobs and be a winwin, not a win-lose. Trade talks between Canada and Europe continue this week in Brussels.

With files from BJ Siekierski and the Canadian Press
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