Talks fail to break deadlock on Canada, EU free trade

Two days of face-to-face meetings between Canada's trade minister and his EU counterpart, ending late Thursday, failed to break a deadlock on the last stumbling blocks to reaching a free trade pact.

"Progress was made in several of the areas that remain outstanding. However, further important work remains to be done, and the process of negotiations is continuing," a spokesman for Canadian Trade Minister Ed Fast said Friday.

"Both Canada and the EU remain committed to a successful outcome to the negotiations," he said, but added that Ottawa "will only sign an agreement that is in the best interests of Canadians."

Fast and European Union Commissioner Karel De Gucht, along with their respective negotiating teams, met in Ottawa late Wednesday and throughout the day Thursday. They were joined by Canadian Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz and his EU counterpart Commissioner Dacian Ciolos.

Free trade talks opened in 2009 with the expectation that negotiations would have concluded by late 2012 and a treaty ratified by now.

Both sides have been tight-lipped about the areas of disagreement.

Canada's opposition is concerned about European demands for longer pharmaceutical patents that would delay marketing of cheaper generic drugs, and the opening up of Canadian municipal procurements to EU companies.

A free trade pact would give Canadian companies access to the EU market of 500 million consumers in 27 countries.

It would also eliminate 98 percent of Canadian tariffs on EU goods, effectively lowering the price of European goods sold in Canada by as much as five percent.