Free-trade negotiations between Canada and the European Union are nearly done and a deal could be announced as early as a "few weeks," according to the EU's top official responsible for the Americas.
Christian Leffler, managing director of the Americas for the European Union's External Action Service, refuted speculation that momentum is lagging in the talks after both sides failed to reach an agreement by a stated deadline of the end of 2012.
"I believe that this can be done, and I hope it will be done, in the next few weeks or the next couple of months," he said in an interview with The Globe and Mail. "Inevitably, towards the end of a negotiation, the issues that are left are not the walkover issues. They're the most difficult ones. … This does require those difficult political decisions to be taken on where the compromises will lie."
Mr. Leffler's comments come as both sides prepare for further talks in Brussels May 6-8.
A Canadian official speaking on background said there is an opportunity to reach a deal soon, partly because of pressure from the Americans. The Canadian official said the United States would like to see the EU prove that it can bring trade negotiations to a conclusion. The Canada-EU deal could then be used as a template for negotiations between the EU and the United States, which are in the early stages.
Still, a sense of skepticism will continue to hang over the talks until they reach a firm conclusion, given the many previous hints of an imminent deal that have failed to materialize.
Mr. Leffler said some of the remaining issues that will require compromise at the political level involve agriculture, European access to public infrastructure projects and investment protection.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper will attend the G8 Summit in Northern Ireland June 17-18, but it is not clear whether that trip is viewed as a potential window for the two sides to announce a deal.
The EU's early negotiations with the United States have led to some speculation that European resources could be diverted to those talks if a deal with Canada is not reached soon.
Mr. Leffler rejected such a connection. "The EU are champions of multitasking," he said, though he acknowledged that the negotiations with the United States will take up a lot of EU resources. "Launching a free-trade negotiation between the EU and the United States is going to be the mother of all negotiations," he said.
Rudy Husny, a spokesman for Canadian International Trade Minister Ed Fast, said negotiators are meeting frequently to work on the remaining issues.
"In the current global economic climate, an ambitious trade agreement between the EU and Canada would be a significant benefit to both Canada and the European Union," Mr. Husny said in an e-mail. "Our government will only sign an agreement that is in the best interests of Canadians, and we continue to pursue that objective."