By Nirmala Menon
OTTAWA--The Canadian government confirmed Tuesday that the final details of a long-awaited free trade deal with the European Union have been completed, almost a year after leaders announced a preliminary agreement, though it could take two more years for approval by both sides.
Canada's Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development said in a statement that the text of the agreement has been sent to officials in the provinces and territories.
The news was first reported by The Wall Street Journal earlier in the day.
The agreement is expected to be initialed by leaders at a Canada-EU Summit that will be hosted in Canada, probably in late September.
The deal is broader in scope and more ambitious that the North American Free Trade Agreement as it covers all aspects of Canada-EU trade, including goods and services, labor mobility, investments, government procurement and regulatory cooperation.
The agreement would make Canada the only nation in the Group of Eight and one of the only developed countries in the world to have preferential access to both the EU and the U.S. markets.
A joint study before the trade talks were launched concluded that a deal would boost the Canadian economy by 12 billion Canadian dollars ($10.9 billion) annually. According to European Commission estimates, bilateral trade, valued at more than 80 billion euros a year, would rise 23% as a result of the deal.
Last October, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew to Brussels to announce, along with European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, that an agreement in principle had been reached, more than four years after talks were launched in May 2009.
Negotiators then had to flesh out details, such as administration of quotas for beef and pork exports to the EU and imports of European cheese to Canada, a Canadian official said.
The final issues nailed down late last week included matters related to maritime transport and financial services, he said. Contrary to recent reports, he said, the so-called "investor-state dispute settlement" chapter had been settled several months ago. This provision, which is also one of the most controversial topics in Brussels's ongoing trade talks with the U.S., would allow foreign investors to challenge government policies in special tribunals.
According to the Canadian official, the issue bubbled up because Germany is more concerned about potential challenges from the U.S. rather than from Canada.
Canadian officials and trade experts have said the Canada-EU agreement is expected to be a template for the much bigger U.S.-EU deal.
The deal with the EU is key for Mr. Harper, who has made economic growth a cornerstone of his Conservative government policy. It would allow him to tout his economic stewardship during the next Canadian federal election, due in 2015.
According to the Canadian official, negotiators briefed their leaders and sought guidance on specific issues in concluding the text, but didn't require "direct engagement" by Mr. Harper and his European counterparts.
Completing the text is an "important milestone" and "very good news," but there is still a long way to go before the deal is implemented, said Cam Vidler, director of international policy at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, which has been among the prominent business groups urging the two sides to conclude the agreement.
"This is still early in the process. We're going to have to work pretty hard to get it through the ratification and implementation process" in Canada and Europe, Mr. Vidler said.
The text has to be translated and undergo final legal review before it is sent to the European Parliament and national legislatures for approval, a process that could take up to two years, according to the Canadian official.
Meanwhile, the Canadian government statement said Mr. Harper and his Trade Minister Ed Fast will lead a trade mission to the U.K. in early September to capitalize early on the coming agreement.
Write to Nirmala Menon at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
August 05, 2014 18:41 ET (22:41 GMT)
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