European Union Says Harper Sounding Conciliatory on Stalled Free-Trade Talks

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Harper sounding conciliatory on trade: EU

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OTTAWA - Prime Minister Stephen Harper's office is sounding more conciliatory about an imminent resolution to the continent's stalled free-trade talks with Canada, a senior European Union official said Thursday.

That view from Brussels comes as Harper prepares to meet European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso on Friday, on the sidelines of the G20 summit in St. Petersburg, Russia.

Peter Stastny, the union's rapporteur on the Canada-Europe negotiations, said he is more optimistic than he was several months ago.

"The good news is, that I keep hearing, more and more a kind of conciliatory and optimistic rhetoric, particularly from the office of Prime Minister Harper of Canada," Stastny said Thursday in a briefing to the European Parliament's international trade committee.

"I'm probably more optimistic now than I was before. It could happen any time soon."

Stastny said his optimism is based on his perception that Harper's office is playing down the gaps that remain on the main unresolved obstacles to a deal, including access for Canadian pork and beef, drug patents and provincial procurements.

"They are minor issues that should be and could be solved," he said.

"The rhetoric I keep hearing, from the EU, but mostly from Canada and (the) prime minister's office, seems to minimize these issues, and they see the end of a tunnel that hopefully will come very ... soon."

A Canadian source close to the talks said a "small handful of key issues" remain on the table, including agriculture, intellectual property and procurement.

Adam Taylor, Trade Minister Ed Fast's spokesman, said "focused disussions" continue across several key economic sectors, covering all regions of Canada.

"Canada has made robust offers in good faith that address the EU's key interests," Taylor said in an email. He did not elaborate.

"Canadians expect to be provided the same by the EU and we continue to make this clear to our EU counterparts."

The Canadian source said the latest offer was to be put before EU political leaders, including Barroso, and Karel de Gucht, the EU Commissioner for Trade, for their collective response.

Harper's office offered no public statement on his coming Friday meeting with Barrosso. …