The European Union is accusing Canada of holding up a major trade deal in an undiplomatic bout of finger-pointing as each side blames the other for an apparent impasse in negotiations.
In an unusually frank statement, the EU said it’s ready to make the hard political decisions necessary to bridge differences. Canada, in reply, is saying it has yet to receive an offer that addresses its core interests, such as beef.
Negotiators stood down Tuesday after more than three weeks of talks in Brussels. It became clear Canada and the EU would be unable to clinch a deal by the end of the June 17-18 Group of Eight meetings in Northern Ireland, which Prime Minister Stephen Harper was attending.
“We’re kind of in a holding pattern now,” a Canadian source said.
Mr. Harper flew home Tuesday after a seven-day European trip, having missed a window of opportunity to nail down a trade deal with the 27-member EU before it starts separate negotiations with the United States in July.
Canada’s inability to secure sufficient annual access to EU markets for beef remains the biggest roadblock for Ottawa in signing a deal. The EU is offering a figure exceeding 40,000 tonnes per year – sources suggest it’s 50,000 to 60,000 tonnes – but the proposal has not satisfied the Harper government. It’s determined to secure as much of the quota as possible as fresh rather than frozen meat.
The European Union, reacting to a Globe and Mail story that cited Canadian frustration at EU backtracking during the talks, shot back Tuesday by blaming Ottawa for the slow-moving talks.
In a terse statement, EU trade spokesman John Clancy said the European Union has been waiting four months for Canada to signal its willingness to engage in serious deal-making.
“The EU has shown pragmatism and flexibility and is ready to take the last steps to achieve a political breakthrough in the negotiations,” Mr. Clancy said.
“We have been awaiting a similar message from Canada since the trade and agriculture ministers met in Ottawa in early February.”
After providing the comment to The Globe, the EU also released a public statement using the same language.
The verbal jab prompted a quick response from Canada, which suggested Ottawa is still waiting for serious offers from Brussels.
“Canada has made robust offers in good faith that address the EU’s key interests,” said Adam Taylor, director of communications for International Trade Minister Ed Fast. “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.”
Canadian sources said Canada is willing to extend patent protection for brand-name drugs and offer Europeans more access to transit procurement deals if Ottawa gets what it wants on beef and pork access.
Ireland and France remain opposed to granting Canada more beef access, one source familiar with the talks said. The countries “basically want to give up next to nothing,” the source said.
For four years, Canada has been trying to conclude negotiations on what would be its biggest trade deal since the historic Canada-U.S. free-trade agreement of 1988 – one that would make it easier for Canadian companies to sell goods and services to 500 million consumers in the EU.
Werner Wnendt, Germany’s ambassador to Canada, said trade talks with the EU are intricate because individual member states will defend their interests right up until the end stage.
“This is negotiations between two parties, but on the other hand this is an organization you are negotiating with that has 27 and soon 28 member states. And they all have their own interest, and to the very last moment they will try to raise [it],” Mr. Wnendt said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron, who chaired the G8 summit, told reporters only a couple of issues remain.“The negotiations, as I can see it, have been going well,” Mr. 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.”