Canada, EU, seek new trade pact amid finance crisis


Montreal : The ongoing global financial crisis tops the agenda of talks between Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and European Union (EU) leaders, as they meet Friday to launch a process that might eventually lead to an “economic partnership” between Canada and the EU.

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The meeting in Quebec City between Harper, French President Nicolas Sarkozy and Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, was initially supposed to focus on a possible free trade deal between Canada and the EU.

But the meeting’s new focus was announced by Harper as he laid out a six-point economic plan following his re-election this week.

He promised to make sure Canadian banks are not put at a disadvantage by rescue efforts in Europe and the US, where governments are pumping money into financial institutions to protect them.

“We are examining what other countries are doing very closely to make sure that our banks are not put at a competitive disadvantage,” Harper said at a post-election press conference in Calgary earlier this week.

Harper, Sarkozy and Barroso were greeted Friday by Canada’s head of state, Governor General Michaelle Jean, ahead of the La Francophonie summit, a gathering of the world’s French-speaking nations, scheduled in Quebec City.

The leaders of most of the world’s French-speaking nations will be in Quebec City through Sunday, although Sarkozy will leave on Saturday to meet with US President George W. Bush outside Washington, DC.

Harper has said the meeting with Sarkozy and Barroso is also aimed at exploring ways Canada and Europe can strengthen their economic ties.