Canada-EU free-trade talks have been 'difficult,' Harper and Hollande say

PARIS – Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French President Francois Hollande are acknowledging the “difficult” nature of free-trade talks between Canada and the European Union.

The two leaders were asked about the long-running negotiations at a joint news conference Friday in Paris.

“There are obviously, always in negotiations, some areas that are more difficult than others,” Harper said.

“But both of our countries look to considerable gains from an eventual agreement, and we will continue to work with that objective in mind.”

“In a negotiation it is well understood that there are some hurdles at some points, that there are some difficulties,” Hollande added in French.

“We know them in a number of fields. What matters most is to have the willingness to conclude and to overcome what might be difficult at some point in order to (conclude talks).”

The elusive agreement has been a backdrop to Harper’s European trip ahead of the coming G8 summit in Northern Ireland.

Canadian officials and the prime minister himself say they do not expect a deal to be done in time for the meeting of the world’s eight wealthiest countries, which starts Sunday.

But the clock is ticking. Canadian negotiators are under growing pressure to broker a deal with the Europeans before they turn their attention to free trade talks with the United States.

Harper has rejected the notion of a deadline to get a deal done.

One of the main obstacles is believed to be Canadian beef exports. France and Ireland are said to have objections to the amount of meat that would be allowed under a free-trade deal.

Other issues believed to be on the negotiating table are financial services, procurement limits for provinces and municipalities and drug patent protection.