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Merkel, Harper talk trade, resources

By Jessica Murphy, Senior Washington Correspondent

OTTAWA -  ­ Prime Minister Stephen Harper has got German Chancellor Angela Merkel on side to push for a speedy conclusion to the Canada-European Union free-trade talks.

Harper made it clear that wrapping up the negotiations on the ambitious deal -- estimated to add $12 billion to Canada's GDP annually if ratified -- is a priority and he wants Merkel to use her influence to pressure her European counterparts on the agreement.

"At a time when there is lack of growth in the world, we -- Canada and Germany -- are convinced free trade is one of the best engines of growth," Merkel said at a joint news conference in Ottawa on Thursday.

The chancellor, in Ottawa for an official visit, added she would push her counterparts to meet the deadline of concluding talks by the end of the year.

Still, not everyone is keen on the potential deal. Unions, municipalities and environmental activists fear the pact could weaken health and environmental regulations, and open government procurement contracts to European competitors.

The leaders also tackled the Eurozone debt crisis, with Harper expressing confidence the Europeans -- with "the chancellor's leadership" -- are ready to deal with the fundamental problems in their economies.

Publicly, Harper and Merkel steered clear of any contentious issues, with the prime minister staying mum on Europe's handling of the debt crisis and Merkel skirting around Canada's refusal to contribute to the International Monetary Fund's bailout pot for the Eurozone.

Canada and the U.S. have refused to pitch in to the IMF fund, with Canada saying Europe has the means to handle its own problems.

Also on the agenda was natural resources, with Merkel noting that Canada was among the world's top suppliers.

"In the next decades to come, we trust that we will co-operate very closely in this particular area, that we will embark on a joint path of extracting these raw materials," she said.

The EU is weighing classifying oilsands crude as a "dirtier" class of oil, something Canada has lobbied against and industry fears would impose a heavy administrative burden.

Merkel acknowledged she was "familiar with the problem" of oilsands extraction, but noted other forms of energy extraction also produced greenhouse gas emissions.

The two leaders have met before at G8 and G20 summits, but this is Merkel's first bilateral visit to Canada.

Former chancellor Gerhard Schroder was the last German leader to come to Canada for a bilateral visit, in 2002.

 


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