Van Loan and European commissioner Karel De Gucht said they’ve agreed to take talks to the next stage for a late 2011 agreement.
It’s estimated an agreement to liberalize economic exchanges in goods and services would give the Canadian economy a $12-billion annual boost. Europe’s economy would benefit even more.
The minister said talks went better than he expected. De Gucht was also optimistic, noting Canada and Europe are developed economies with substantial existing trade links.
But both acknowledged there are challenges to overcome.
Europe is seeking access to provincial government procurement, including new green technologies, and both sides have high tariff and other barriers that protect their respective agricultural sectors.
Other trade agreements
The federal government has put trade agreements at the forefront of its plans to increase exports — a sector the Bank of Canada recently cited as a key weakness in the economy.
Canada has signed a string of small agreements, including with Colombia, and is pursing links with India and South Korea.
While Seoul reached an accord with the US earlier this month, an agreement with Canada remains elusive.
Van Loan said he’s examining the deal to see if there are opportunities for Canada, but acknowledged Korea has made more concessions to the US auto sector than it has been willing to put on the table here.
The minister also expressed confidence that trade with the US remains on solid footing, despite declining exports and the thickening of the border.
News reports have speculated Canada and the US are planning to increase co-operation on border issues, but Van Loan said the bigger challenge is still the weak economy there.
“The thickening of the border is always of concern, but frankly that’s a challenge of logistics. If you don’t have the sales, if the economy is so weak people aren’t buying things, that (the border) becomes less of an issue,” the Minister said.
© The Canadian Press
Photo: European Commissioner for Trade, Karel De Gucht with Canada’s Minister of Trade, Peter Van Loan