BRUSSELS — The European Union and Canada agreed to a multibillion-dollar trade pact on Friday that will integrate two of the world’s largest economies and pave the way for Europe to clinch an even bigger deal with the United States.
The deal will make Canada the only G8 country to have preferential access to the world’s two largest markets, the EU and the United States, home to a total of 800 million people.
“This is the biggest deal our country has ever made,” Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Brussels, adding that it outstripped the North American Free Trade Agreement between Canada, the United States and Mexico.
Talks between the two sides launched in May 2009 but stalled for months over quotas for Canadian beef and EU cheese. Harper and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso met in Brussels to resolve outstanding issues and seal the deal.
In a cheeky touch, chefs served Italian gorgonzola and Greek feta cheese at a four-course lunch laid out for the two leaders to celebrate the deal, which EU trade chief Karel De Gucht called a “template” for negotiations with the United States.
The deal marks a breakthrough for Brussels’ free-trade agenda, which had previously achieved smaller agreements with South Korea and Singapore. It is expected to increase bilateral trade in goods and services by one-fifth to $35 billion a year, according to the latest EU estimates. Barroso said he hoped the agreement could come into effect from 2015, after EU governments, the European Parliament and Canada’s 10 provinces give their blessing.
One significant potential obstacle was cleared on Friday when the government of Quebec, whose dairy industry had been unhappy about the increased EU cheese quota, announced its support for the agreement.