OTTAWA – Canada and the European Union have entered the sixth round of trade talks this week for what could be the largest free trade agreement since NAFTA.

But critics from both sides of the Atlantic are protesting outside the EU Headquarters in Brussels to voice their concerns the deal will be neither good for the environment nor the economy.

The Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, which has largely gone unreported, has been in the works since October 2009 and International Trade Minister Peter Van Loan has said negotiations could be wrapped up by the end of this year.

He has praised the potential deal as the centerpiece of the Conservatives’ “ambitious” free trade agenda.

“As Canada’s second largest trading partner and the world’s single wealthiest market, the European Union holds great potential for Canadian workers, entrepreneurs and businesses,” Van Loan wrote in an e-mail Tuesday. “Canada is now negotiating an agreement with the European Union that will be broader than even NAFTA. That’s why our provinces and territories are participating in the negotiations in areas that fall within their jurisdiction.

“Together, we are negotiating a trade agreement that will secure access for Canadian companies doing business with Europe and create jobs and stability for Canadian workers.”
While Canada reportedly is also keen to open up labour mobility as part of the deal, the 27 European nations want open access to Canadian government procurements, including provincial and even municipal contracts.

According to the government, a 2008 study found Canada and EU two-way trade could increase 20% with a free trade agreement, and Canada’s economy stands to gain upwards of $12 billion annually from such a deal.