A top Brussels diplomat says the European Union is now directing its attention to new trade liberalization talks with the United States, but insists the EU won't abandon long-running efforts to clinch a similar deal with Canada.
"Of course we focus now on the deal with the United States," Matthias Brinkmann, who is ending his post as the EU's ambassador to Canada, told reporters Wednesday. "There was 60 people from [the EU] going to these negotiations a week ago in Washington. So it's a big thing."
Canada has been negotiating with the EU for more than four years. A deal would grant Canadian businesses improved access to a market of more than 500 million consumers across 28 EU member states.
The Harper government, which has been hoping to wrap up an agreement for more than eight months, was unable to reach a satisfactory deal with Brussels before the EU commenced its first round of trade talks last week with the U.S., a far bigger market.
Talks between Canada and the EU have quietly resumed this week in Ottawa. Canada's chief negotiator Steve Verheul and EU counterpart Mauro Petriccione began the latest talks Tuesday and they continued Wednesday.
The Canadian government signalled it expects Brussels to put more on the table.
"Canada has made robust offers in good faith that address the EU's key interests," Rudy Husny, press secretary for International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said Wednesday. "Canadians expect to be provided the same by the EU and we continue to make this clear to our EU counterparts."
Canada has previously lost out in trade talks with South Korea when its negotiating partner shifted attention to cutting a deal with the U.S. Canada still has no trade deal with Seoul, but South Korea signed one with the U.S. in 2007.
Mr. Brinkmann said he doesn't believe there's much negotiation left to do with Ottawa and predicted Canada would sign a deal with the EU before the U.S. does.
"Our chief negotiator, he is continuing with Canada. He has other tasks but now with Canada there is only a few things which need to be settled."
Canada and the EU still have to reach agreement on topics such as access to government procurement markets and how much beef the Canadian cattle industry will be allowed to sell annually into the EU's protected market.
The ambassador said he feels Canadian dairy producers will be unscathed if the European Union gains greater duty-free access for EU cheese in Canada because, he says, a greater variety of cheese will boost consumer demand.
"If we get more, a bigger quota, that will not hurt the Canadian dairy producer," Mr. Brinkmann said. "On the contrary, because variety gets bigger, interest increases and so on and that will be absorbed easily by the market."
The envoy said concessions Canada is expected to make on intellectual property – extending patent protection for brand-name drugs – would merely be meeting global norms. "There is an international standard on how much patent protection you give … it's only fair that this standard is observed in industrialized countries."
He said Canada has more to gain from a deal than the EU. "It's much bigger than all the others you are negotiating. The potential is so huge for Canada. Much more than for us. It's 500 million consumers."
As he leaves Canada, Mr. Brinkmann said he was not happy with how the EU financial crisis was portrayed in the Canadian media. "There is a handful of countries that have public debt problems," he said. "Some of them have severe unemployment problems. But there are 28 of us. And a large number of those are thriving."