OTTAWA—Canadian and European officials are confirming that a long-awaited free trade deal is within reach—with some speculating it could be just days or weeks away.
Sources say authorities on both sides of the Atlantic are currently contacting stakeholders, including the Canadian provinces, about what appears to be a comprehensive pact to link the two economies.
Both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso tweeted that they expect a breakthrough to come “soon.”
A source tells The Canadian Press that a deal in principle has been reached, but it will still need approval from key Canadian provinces, as well as individual European nations.
A key breakthrough came with Ottawa’s agreement to permit a doubling of the European Union (EU) quota on cheese exports to Canada from four per cent of the total to eight, in exchange for greater access for Canadian beef and pork producers.
News of that concession comes as a blow to Canada’s dairy farmers, who describe it as a “giveaway” that has left them “angered and disappointed.”
Beef and pork farmers, however, appeared pleased that the EU would open up its market to their exports, essentially for the first time.
An official with the Canadian Agri-food Trade Alliance said Canada could potentially increase exports by up to $1.3-billion—$1-billion on beef and pork and the rest on other foods, like canola—as a result of a deal.
“It is an impressive deal, the government has done well,” said Kathleen Sullivan, the alliance’s executive director.
The agreement is expected to require Canada to go part way in extending patent protection for brand-name pharmaceutical drugs, which would delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs by up to two years.
Estimates say that could increase the total bill on drugs for provincial health plans and consumers by more than $1-billion a year.
An agreement, after four years of hard and sometimes rocky bargaining, would likely be trumpeted by the Harper government as a major victory in its growth and prosperity agenda.
Ottawa has said a successful Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), as the deal is known, could increase Canada’s gross domestic product by $12-billion and help create an additional 80,000 jobs.
A pledge to complete the deal was expected to be part of the federal throne speech, along with a commitment to proceed with other trade expansion treaties, particularly the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).