May 11, 2009

Premier ‘nearly derailed’ Canada-EU talks

Newfoundland and Labrador's refusal to support Ottawa's trade talks with the European Union nearly derailed negotiations, a diplomatic official said Monday.

I have to be perfectly frank with you: The statement by (Premier) Danny Williams when he refused to sign up to the Council of the Federation statement nearly derailed the entire process, Anya Oram, charge d'affaires for the European Commission delegation in Ottawa, told the St. John's (Newfoundland) Telegram Monday.

The Council of the Federation is made up of the premiers of Canada's 13 provinces and territories. It is intended to provide a united crossing point between the provincial and territorial governments and Canada's federal government.

Williams said Feb. 20 his government would not support Ottawa's EU negotiations because of concerns Ottawa would mishandle his province's issues, including EU opposition to Canadian seal hunting, the Telegram said.

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in Prague, Czech Republic, last week to launch negotiations with European officials toward a Canadian-EU free trade agreement.

The kickoff was complicated by a European Parliament vote to ban Canadian seal products. But Harper said Canada would not let the sealing issue contaminate trade talks.

The prime minister also announced agreements with the EU on air safety and air transportation that could lead to lower prices for travel between Canada and Europe.