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Harper promises push to complete free-trade deals with EU, India Add to ...

Stephen Harper is promising firm deadlines for wrapping up free-trade talks with India and the European Union during a Thursday morning election campaign stop in Halifax.

The Tory Leader said a Conservative government would sign an agreement with the EU by 2012 and India by 2013

The Conservative Leader laid out these promises during an event with Halifax-area Tory candidates – part of an effort to demonstrate how the party intends to foster economic growth and jobs by expanding foreign trade.

“Canada is a trading nation,” Mr. Harper said. “That's why since taking office we have made expanding and improving access to foreign markets such a priority.”

The deadline for an EU deal represents a delay from what was expected.

Canada and the European Union had set a goal of wrapping up talks in 2011 on an agreement that has been projected to boost this country's annual economic output by between $6-billion and $13-billion.

Negotiations were launched in May, 2009, and six rounds have been conducted far. Last December both jurisdictions said they were on track to conclude in 2011 and two more rounds are set for April and July.

Canada and India kicked off free-trade talks in November 2010, heralding a joint study that said more liberalized commerce could boost this country’s economic output by $6-billion (U.S.).

Since taking office in 2006, the Conservatives have made it a priority to pursue trade deals that give Canada preferential access to new markets, an area where previous Liberal governments failed to make major headway.

In four years, the Harper government has concluded new trade agreements with eight countries and conducted negotiations with close to 50 others.

Under the Chrétien and Martin governments, talks began on seven new free-trade agreements and several investor protection deals. But they completed few; the last free-trade deal signed under the Liberals was Costa Rica in 2001.

The Tories have been intent on boosting non-U.S. trade so that Canada is not quite so heavily dependent on one market – a goal shared by many past governments that ultimately failed to accomplish this.

They’re also trying stay ahead in the worldwide race to clinch special trade arrangements in light of the fact that global talks to accomplish the same thing on a broad basis have foundered for years.

Later Thursday, Mr. Harper travels to Newfoundland and Labrador in his bid to recapture seats there after being shut out in the last election

The Harper Conservatives are offering a relatively lean set of spending promises so far this campaign, including measures taken from the small 2011 budget that died when they were defeated by opposition parties March 25. It averaged about $1.5-billion in annual new spending over five years.

On Monday, the Conservatives promised $2.5-billion on tax breaks for parents of 18-and-under kids – but only after the federal budget is balanced. On Tuesday they re-announced a small budget tax break for small business. On Wednesday they took another page from the 2011 budget, promising $620-million in tax breaks for manufacturers over four years.

Follow on Twitter: @stevenchase

 

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