Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Conservatives cast wide net to catch deals

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MANILA, Philippines -- Prime Minister Stephen Harper has offered frank insight into his government's strategy of pursuing trade agreements with dozens of countries.

In effect, the government is casting a wide net, knowing it will snag some little fish even if the big ones ultimately get away.

In an interview Friday with the Toronto Star, Harper said he doesn't want to risk focusing strictly on the "biggest priorities" in case negotiations stall.

"There's a lot of roadblocks out there in all these relationships, China, India, the negotiations with the European Union, the Americas strategy," Harper said.

"Frankly, because of all the impediments, my judgment is that we have to go hard on all fronts and see what actually progresses."

Harper spoke to the Star after wrapping up a six-day trade trip to India. He jetted to the Philippines on Friday and will head to Hong Kong on Sunday.

He boasted to an Indian audience this week his government has inked trade deals with nine countries and launched negotiations with more than 60 others since taking office in 2006.

The nine agreements are with Colombia, Jordan, Panama, Peru, the European Free Trade Association and Honduras.

Negotiations have been underway for some time with India and the European Union but there have not yet been even exploratory talks with China, the biggest fish of all. China's ambassador to Canada, Zhang Junsai, raised the issue in September, calling for a free trade agreement between the two countries to be struck within a decade.

The European Union holds the most immediate promise of a trade deal.

International Trade Minister Ed Fast is heading to Brussels later this month to pick up where officials left off in negotiating a broad trade and investment agreement with the EU. Negotiations among officials are finished and it's now up to ministers to hash out the most contentious issues, including drug patents and intellectual property.

Canada had hoped to wrap up the deal by the end of 2012 but it now appears talks will continue into the new year.

-- The Canadian Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 10, 2012 B17

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