Harper Says He Won’t Put a Deadline on European Talks

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he won’t put an “artificial” deadline on concluding a trade agreement with the European Union, even though progress is being made.

Harper, speaking to reporters in London as part of a week-long European trip, said talks between the two sides are continuing and will be part of his discussions this week with the region’s leaders.

“We are not going to set a timeline or fixed date on which we’re going to have an agreement, because it is essential that we be driven by the contents of the discussion,” Harper said. “We will not arrive at an accord until such time as we think we have the best accord we can get for the Canadian people and that will be what drives us, the contents, not some artificial timeline.”

Harper will meet U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron tomorrow before traveling to Paris, to meet French President Francois Hollande, and Dublin where he will meet Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny, who holds the rotating EU presidency. Harper ends his trip at the summit of Group of Eight leaders in Northern Ireland.

The proposed pact is a test of Harper’s efforts to diversify Canada’s exports away from the U.S., its largest trading partner. The two sides have struggled to close a deal because of differences over agricultural goods, procurement and financial services. When talks began in 2009, Canada had been hoping for an agreement by as early as 2011.

Andrew MacDougall, Harper’s director of communications, told reporters June 7 that Harper probably won’t sign the pact during his trip.

The Globe and Mail reported today that Canada has agreed to ease foreign investment restrictions into the country for European companies.

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