Steve Verheul, the lead Canadian negotiator for the Canada – EU Trade Agreement, provided an update on the CETA negotiations last week on a call with civil society groups. I will provide an update on the link between CETA and ACTA in part two tomorrow. This post highlights several additional details coming out of the call. First, new rounds of negotiations are scheduled for September 17 – 21 in Ottawa, followed by a round of negotiation in Brussels from October 15 – 26. Both sides say they remain hopeful that an agreement will be reached by the end of the year, though the call highlighted many ongoing areas of disagreement.
Second, when asked about the lack of transparency associated with CETA, Verheul confirmed that both the EU and Canada oppose the release of the text until the agreement is concluded. He argued that the draft text may create an inaccurate picture of where the negotiations stand and that the most difficult issues are often addressed via face-to-face discussions rather than with the exchange of text.
Third, the issue of patent reform, which is a key EU demand on behalf of its pharmaceutical industry, remains unresolved. Verheul made it clear that the issue has not been discussed and Canada is not prepared to counter the EU demands at this time. In fact, he suggested that it was unlikely the patent dispute would be discussed during the next two rounds of talks.
So what is the likely next step on the issue?
Verheul noted that the parties hope to narrow the areas of disagreement to between 5 to 10 issues by October. While he did not say so directly, it was clear that patents would remain on this list. At that time, the issue would shift to cabinet with negotiators awaiting political direction on what Canada is prepared to do on each issue. In other words, the government will make a major decision on patents with billions in health care costs at stake behind closed doors with no public discussion, debate, or official access to proposed language. Instead, the public will find out if Canada caved to EU pressure on the patent issue once the text is concluded and it is too late to do anything about it.