As Canada and the European Union struggle to seal a trade liberalizing deal more than three years in the making, the EU and the United States plan their own trade talks.
Trade officials from the two jurisdictions announced Feb. 14 they have agreed to organize and begin talks for a TransAtlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.
Canadian trade specialists say the prospect of an EU-U.S. deal is both an incentive to finish the Canadian talks and a danger if the Europeans decide greater access to the American market is a better option.
“I really think this is an impetus to get the CETA (Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement) done,” Toronto trade lawyer Lawrence Herman said.
“Let’s not get too excited about U.S.–EU talks because they will take some time to start and much longer to finish, but it does give us a push.”
Ottawa trade consultant and former trade negotiator Peter Clark said many sensitive issues remain to be resolved between Brussels and Ottawa, including key agricultural questions about beef and pork access to Europe demanded by Canada and dairy product access to Canada demanded by the EU.
“I think there is a package of issues still to be decided with agriculture among them,” he said.
European and Canadian ministers met in Ottawa in early February to discuss potential political compromises on sensitive issues, but no deals were struck.
The Canadian government continues to insist that it will not sign a deal with Europe that does not protect Canadian agricultural interests.
The Canada-EU CETA talks were supposed to finish last year at the latest, but more talks are planned as solutions to the remaining sensitive issues remain elusive.
Both trade specialists said time is running down on getting a CETA deal because inertia could set in, tough issues must be dealt with and European trade attention could wander elsewhere.
“If they don’t get this deal done by the last part of the second quarter, I think it is in trouble,” said Clark.
Herman offered a shorter time frame.
“If they don’t announce an agreement in principle by the end of the first quarter (March 31), I think the deal will be in some trouble,” he said.
Even if a deal-in-principle is an-nounced, details will have to be worked out and it will have to be approved by each of the 27 EU countries as well as in Ottawa and provincial-territorial capitals in a process that could take years.