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A technical summary of the Canada-EU deal released by International Trade Minister Ed Fast Tuesday says the deal ‘locks in future liberalization’ that affects the Canadian telecom industry.

FERNANDO MORALES/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

Canada has promised the European Union it will be able to take advantage of any further loosening of foreign investment restrictions on this country's telecom sector.

A technical summary of the Canada-EU deal, released by Ottawa Tuesday, says the deal "locks in future liberalization" that would affect the Canadian telecom industry. "It's essentially saying if we ever liberalize the telecom sector the EU would gain the benefit of that liberalization," International Trade Minister Ed Fast said in an interview.

Canada recently liberalized foreign investment restrictions to allow 100-per-cent outside ownership of any telecom firm with less than 10-per-cent market share by revenue.

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If Canada goes further, Mr. Fast said, the deal ensures the EU would reap the benefit too.

"It locks in the current telecom access in terms of investment, but beyond that of course if we gave another trade partner a more open treatment in terms of its telecom investments, that would be shared with the EU as well," he said.

Canada's restrictions on foreign ownership of telecom have long been a trade irritant for both the United States and the EU.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper tabled a technical summary of Canada's free trade deal with the EU Tuesday, but the 26-page document left critics questioning when the full details of the agreement will be released.

The deal would eliminate ownership restrictions in the uranium mining industry that have been in place for two decades, and limit foreign companies to minority positions in operating mines.

French-based Areva SA and London-headquartered Rio Tinto Group have active exploration operations in Saskatchewan and Nunavut but, under current rules, would have to find Canadian partners to own 51 per cent of any resulting mine.

"We view this as a very positive development," Jarret Adams, Saskatoon-based spokesman for Areva, said in an interview.

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Areva currently owns two mines in Saskatchewan, which were grandfathered under the more restrictive rules, and is a partner with Saskatchewan-based Cameco Corp. in others.

Rio Tinto last year purchased Hathor Exploration, a small company that had rich properties in Saskatchewan, a province that is one of the world's largest uranium producers.

The dominant company in the Canadian uranium mining sector is Cameco, which is the world's third largest uranium producer and has its roots in provincial and federal Crown corporations.

Cameco spokesman Gord Struthers said the company supports free trade and liberalized investment rules in the uranium mining sector, so long as it is done on a reciprocal basis. He said the deal would not improve Cameco's business prospects in Europe, given the lack of resources there. But Cameco had 20 per cent of its sales in Europe.

Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall recently said removing the foreign ownership restriction could boost investment by $2.5-billion over the next decade.

NDP trade critic Don Davies said he's concerned at the lack of detail, particularly around the deal's proposed dispute settlement provisions. He said his party will wait until a final text is released before taking a position.

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"I think this agreement has got a lot going for it," he said. "But what I can't do is rely on a communications document."

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