Canada Europe trade deal details still under wraps

Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press
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In Brussels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso announced an agreement in principle on the comprehensive pact that aims to link the two economies.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper participates in a bilateral meeting with José Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission.

[BRUSSELS, BELGIUM] - After four years of opaque negotiations, the lid remains sealed on major parts of Canada's contentious free-trade deal with Europe.

In Brussels, Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Commissioner Jose Manuel Barroso announced an agreement in principle on the comprehensive pact that aims to link the two economies.

But the text of the so-called CETA deal remains a private document that still requires "drafting and fine tuning" and will need a "scrub" from lawyers to make sure it is "legally coherent", a Canadian official said in Brussels on condition he not be identified.

It could be another 18 to 24 months before final European approval is given, and Canada will likely proceed along a similar time frame, the official said.

Ottawa instead released a 44-page overview and other summary documents. The material largely avoids specific details of what Canada had to give up to Europe, especially in sectors such as dairy and intellectual property protection in pharmaceuticals.

The official said the concessions include gains by European companies to bid on provincial and municipal contracts -- the EU's No. 1 priority -- as well as patent protection for drugs and better access for European cheese.

The documents trumpeted the buy-in by beef and pork producers, who gained additional access to the European market.

Today's announcement comes amid accusations by the dairy sector's farmers of a government "giveaway."

"CETA will not affect Canada's supply management system, which will remain as robust as ever," says the government summary.

"The vast majority of supply-managed products will be exempt from increases in market access."

Canada would partially extend patent protection for brand-name pharmaceutical drugs, which would delay the introduction of cheaper generic drugs by up to two years.

The subject has the potential to spark discontent among the provinces because some estimates say that could increase the total bill on drugs for provincial health plans and consumers by more than $1 billion a year.

The official in Brussels said the government was discussing the possibility of compensation to the provinces on dairy and pharmaceuticals.

The government addressed the hot topic in its documents, saying it "supported innovation" that would support "high-paying jobs" in Canada.

"The agreement strikes an appropriate balance between rewarding innovators and ensuring that Canadians are able to reap the fruits of such innovation, from the latest technologies to a wide range of affordable, life-saving drugs."

Organizations: EU

Geographic location: Canada, BRUSSELS, BELGIUM Ottawa Europe

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