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NEWS: Van Loan challenges Charest on CETA demands

The Canadian Press reports that, “(Quebec premier) Jean Charest fended off accusations of being a fairweather free-trader in talks with the European Union — particularly when it comes to lucrative Hydro-Quebec contracts. International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan and other business leaders (have rebuked Quebec) over their demands for the future Canada-EU trade accord. They charge the provinces are asking that too many exceptions and exclusions be part of an eventual agreement. The issue is especially personal for Quebec’s premier, who helped spearhead the trade talks in the first place and for whom a Canada-EU trade pact could be a legacy accomplishment.”

“But Charest told The Canadian Press that he is trying to strike the right balance between opening markets and protecting the role of Hydro-Quebec. ‘We’ve haven’t reached the small details of the negotiations, but what I do know is that I hope Hydro-Quebec can continue to play a role in developing regional economies. We will make a deal that will benefit Quebec and that will be good for our partner. I’m not surprised that the Europeans want to apply pressure to get the most possible.’ Charest (had also) insisted that the public utility and Quebec’s liquor board be excluded from a recent deal between Canada and the United States.”

Last October Charest’s government awarded a $1.2-billion contract to build 468 new subway cars to the Quebec giant Bombardier and the French railway firm Alstom without a competitive bid. The Canadian Press reported then that, “The downside (of this decision) is that Charest, who likes to portray himself as an ardent supporter of free trade between Canada and the European Union, is being accused of squeezing out a European competitor.” The Globe and Mail‘s London-based reporter Doug Saunders tweeted at the time, “I think Jean Charest has just killed the Canada-EU trade deal (which he launched) with this untendered Bombardier deal.”

The Vancouver Sun reported in October that Spanish Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero wrote Charest “expressing his annoyance” that a Spanish firm was excluded from the bidding process. CW Media reported that, “Armand De Mestral, who teaches international trade law at McGill University… said the province’s move threatens Canadian efforts to strike a free-trade deal with the European Union. …He said the EU has always argued that access to provincial service markets and to provincial contracts is essential to any free-trade agreement.” De Mestral said Charest’s decision, “Is totally contradictory to everything that the negotiation is about. It couldn’t be any more flagrantly in violation of the whole purpose of the agreement.”

Today’s Canadian Press article is at http://montreal.ctv.ca/servlet/an/local/CTVNews/20110127/charest-davos-110127/20110127/?hub=MontrealHome.