BRUSSELS — Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper will meet European Commission head Jose Manuel Barroso Friday to finalize a free-trade accord more than four years in the making, officials said.
"The talks are now well advanced" and the two will meet in Brussels "with the aim of concluding negotiations on an accord that offers both sides major opportunities," Commission spokesman Olivier Bailly said on Thursday.
The two men will then brief the media on their discussions, Bailly said, declining to give details of the accord which remain to be settled.
Overnight, Harper said "we will soon complete negotiations" on a free-trade accord which began in 2009, with Barroso tweeting that he hoped to conclude quickly.
Many observers see a deal, which has proved difficult to conclude, as a possible template for European Union (EU) talks with the United States on TTIP, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership which is touted as one of the biggest free-trade accords ever.
Brussels and Washington have held a first round of discussions and are committed to making speedy progress but there are a host of differences to settle.
According to EU figures, bilateral trade in goods last year was worth 61.7 bn euros ($84.0 billion), with Canada the 11th largest trading partner of the European Union, while the 28-member bloc was its second most important market after the United States.
Official sources told AFP earlier the deal would give the European Union increased access for cheese sales, one of the last hurdles.
On several previous occasions officials on both sides have said a deal was imminent but deadlines passed and no announcement was forthcoming.
Negotiations were begun in 2009 with the expectation they would be concluded by late 2012 but they became deadlocked over a few issues, mainly in agriculture.
Canada asked for increased European access for its beef while the EU sought to lower tariffs of up to 300 percent shielding Canada's dairy industry from imports of European cheeses.
A transatlantic deal would give Canadian companies access to 500 million European consumers and eliminate 98 percent of Canadian tariffs on EU goods.