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Outgoing EU ambassador to Canada says CETA negotiations almost finished but Japanese, US deals probably more important

The Canada-European Union corporate rights pact is down to “fine tuning in the final stretch,” but an agreement might not be reached until 2014, said outgoing EU Ambassador to Canada Matthias Brinkmann this week, as reported by The Canadian Press. “Our chief negotiator (Mauro Petriccione), he is continuing with Canada,” said the ambassador, whose four-year term in Ottawa ends this month. “He has other tasks but now with Canada there is only a few things which need to be settled.”

Other tasks means other trade deals to worry about. As of March, Petriccione is also the EU’s lead negotiator in the EU-Japan free trade negotiations. Those talks are racing against the U.S.-led Trans-Pacific Partnership, according to an interesting column in the Globe and Mail by Zaki Laidi about the unhappy victory of bilateralism over multilateralism in international trade. Japanese negotiators will officially join the 12-country TPP talks in Malaysia next week. (Canada and Mexico joined the TPP last fall.)

Canada is also negotiating a free trade agreement separately with Japan—a second round happened in April and third this month—so it’s all a bit of a mess. But it’s clear CETA is still the prize in Harper’s eye.

The Globe and Mail and Wall Street Journal reported this week that the Canadian and EU lead CETA negotiators met in Ottawa on Tuesday and Wednesday to quietly move things along. But Brinkmann, who told media (again and misleadingly) that there’s more in a deal for Canada than Europe, suggested the EU could lose interest.

“Of course we focus now on the deal with the United States,” he said Wednesday. “There was 60 people from [the EU] going to these negotiations a week ago in Washington. So it’s a big thing.”

A spokesperson for Ed Fast responded with a talking point we’ve seen a dozen times this year: “Canada has made robust offers in good faith that address the EU’s key interests. Canadians expect to be provided the same by the EU and we continue to make this clear to our EU counterparts.”

“Robust” can mean a lot of things, according to the trusty Free Dictionary online. For example, “full of health,” which is true if CETA opens new opportunities for private European health insurance or health service providers. It can mean “powerfully built,” which works for corporations that will gain new tools to check government interventions into the economy to protect workers, the environment or public health. Robust could also mean “rough or crude,” which accurately describes what we’ve seen of Canada’s offers.

What the Harper government is actually saying is that its proposal is already very attractive to European corporations. They are now waiting for the EU to open its borders to more Canadian beef. But the EU is letting Canada sweat, saying if that’s what you want you need to give our pharmaceutical companies, dairy producers, and public transit manufacturers much more. It creates a dangerous situation if Harper is desperate to sign something with Europe before the next election.

For more information on the Council of Canadians’ campaign to stop the CETA, click here.