BRUSSELS (AFP) - The European Union and Canada signed a free trade accord after more than four years of sometimes difficult talks, a huge deal that both said will boost growth.
"We have taken a crucial step forward in strengthening relations between the European Union and Canada," the European Commission said while Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper hailed "the biggest (trade) deal our country has ever made." "This is a highly ambitious and far-reaching trade agreement of great importance for the EU's economy," said Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso.
It would provide new opportunities for companies in the EU and in Canada by increasing market access and "be the basis for gaining a strong foothold in the North American market and so provide a catalyst for growth and the creation of jobs in Europe," he said.
The accord, signed on Friday, is widely seen as a possible template for EU efforts to conclude a similar Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the United States which is touted as one of the biggest free-trade accords ever.
Mr Harper said the agreement in principle with Brussels - there remain technical details to be resolved - was "the most important ... and most ambitious ever" for his country.
"It is not just a good deal, it is an excellent deal," he added.
It will give Canada access to a market of some 500 million people in the EU, making it bigger even than the landmark North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with the United States and Mexico.
According to EU figures, bilateral trade in goods last year was worth 61.7 billion euros (S$104.5 billion), with Canada the EU's 11th largest trading partner, while the 28-member bloc was Ottawa's second most important market after the United States.
Mr Barroso, noting the deal was the EU's first with a Group of Eight country, said it could increase trade by up to 26 billion euros in time and add 12 billion euros annually to EU economic output.