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Harper visits Britain as EU trade deal talks continue

Britain's Queen Elizabeth II talks with Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, during a private meeting at Buckingham Palace in central London, Wednesday June 12, 2013.

John Stillwell/AP

Prime Minister Stephen Harper will press the case for a Canada-European Union free-trade agreement when he meets British Prime Minister David Cameron for lunch on Thursday in London.

Mr. Harper is on the second day of a brief European tour before joining other leaders at the G8 summit in Northern Ireland. The deal with the EU has been top of mind for Canadian officials, and Mr. Harper told reporters on Wednesday that it will be a big part of his discussions during stops this week in London, Paris and Dublin.

Negotiations have been under way for months, and officials had hoped a deal would be ready in time for Mr. Harper to sign during his trip. But that appears unlikely, and on Wednesday Mr. Harper also played down expectations.

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"These have been long discussions and they are continuing," he said. "We have been making a lot of progress and they are the biggest trade negotiations Canada has ever had in its history."

But he added Canada will not be rushed into a deal. "We are not going to set a timeline or a fixed date on which we are going to have an agreement," he said. "Because it is essential that we be driven by the contents of the discussions, and we will not arrive at an accord until such time as we think we have the best accord we can get for the Canadian people."

In a separate news conference, Mr. Cameron expressed more optimism about a deal. "It seems to me we're close," he told foreign reporters in London. "It would be a pity if we can't get it over the line. It's important for both of us frankly. Britain and Canada are both trading nations. We should be demonstrating to the rest of the world that these bilateral trade agreements can drive growth."

Mr. Harper spent the morning in London meeting with business leaders and announcing Canada's plans to require oil, gas and mining companies to report all payments they make to foreign governments. International development groups have been calling for more disclosure of these payments for years, mainly as a way to stop corruption. It is not clear what Canada will require, and Mr. Harper said the details of the rules will be developed through negotiations with the provinces, industry, non-profit groups and First Nations.

The United States and the European Union have similar disclosure rules that require companies to disclose taxes, royalties and other fees paid to governments. The measures have been welcomed by non-profit groups and businesses alike, although concern is growing about the complexities of the reporting regimes.

Transparency and tax avoidance have become major themes for Mr. Cameron, and he plans to put both at the top of the agenda of the G8 as chair. While Canada has expressed support for Mr. Cameron's call, one advocacy group called Avaaz said Canadian officials are holding out on approving a G8 plan for a registry of beneficial owners of shell companies.

After meeting with business people, Mr. Harper spent nearly an hour with the Queen at Buckingham Palace. That was longer than Canadian officials expected. On Thursday, he will address both Houses of Parliament and have lunch with Mr. Cameron in the House of Commons. This will be the second meeting between the leaders in three months.

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They had dinner together in April at Mr. Cameron's residence at 10 Downing St. when Mr. Harper attended the funeral of Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Cameron indicated that the two get along well.

"Stephen has been a huge supporter to the United Kingdom and also been a great supporter to me, so I always enjoy meeting with him and talking to him," he said.

Referring to his own political situation as the leader of a minority government, he added: "Also, as someone who used to lead a minority administration and then managed to get re-elected as a majority leader, he's always got some interesting advice for me."

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About the Author
European Correspondent

Paul Waldie has been an award-winning journalist with The Globe and Mail for more than 10 years. He has won three National Newspaper Awards for business coverage and been nominated for a Michener Award for meritorious public service journalism. He has also won a Sports Media Canada award for sports writing and authored a best-selling biography of the McCain family. More

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