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Canada-EU talks should stay ahead of their U.S.-EU equivalent

President Francois Hollande of France.


The indignation of President François Hollande of France and Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany about alleged American surveillance of their governments, with threatened consequences for imminent U.S.-European Union free-trade negotiations, may offer an opportunity for the Canada-EU free-trade negotiations – the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement – to recover their momentum.

On Monday, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership talks (another somewhat grandiose name) between the U.S. and the EU are scheduled to begin in Washington. They are now expected to proceed, although Mr. Hollande, the head of state of one of the largest EU members, had said, "We cannot have negotiations or transactions in any area, unless there are guarantees" that any such surveillance ceases; for a time he called for a 15-day delay. Already, Mr. Hollande was likely to be one of the more obstinate leaders on some of the issues in the TTIP, notably the film industry.

The intelligence allegations were published in Der Spiegel and the Guardian, and were apparently based on documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the American fugitive who was formerly a U.S. National Security Agency systems analyst.

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President Barack Obama has not sounded apologetic in the least; he essentially said that an intelligence service would be of no use if it did not get beneath the surface of world affairs. In other words, intelligence is intelligence.

In the long run, the Canada-EU and the U.S.-EU negotiations should be entirely compatible. Free trade is not a zero-sum game. But the American market, almost 10 times larger than the Canadian market, is proportionately a more compelling attraction.

Ideally, the two sets of negotiations would not overlap, and a Canada-EU agreement would serve as a precedent or template for Europe's agreement with the U.S.

Canada and the EU should refrain from blaming each other for the fact that there is not yet an agreement. The matters in dispute are now mostly questions of precise amounts of beef, cheese and so on. The fairly small number of outstanding issues makes a reasonable compromise quite feasible.

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