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European Union signs free trade agreement with Canada

The European Union and Canada have signed a free trade agreement designed to boost growth and employment. The deal, still to be approved by parliaments and EU member states, ends over four years of negotiations.

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said the EU struck the tentative free trade deal on Friday following talks with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Brussels.

"This is a highly ambitious and far-reaching trade agreement of great importance for the EU's economy," Barroso said in a statement.

The Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement would "provide significant new opportunities for companies in the EU and in Canada by increasing market access for goods and services and providing new opportunities for European investors."

"It will 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," Barroso added.

Harper hailed the agreement as "the biggest [trade] deal our country has ever made."

"It's not just a good deal, it is an excellent deal," he said.

Canada and the EU have been engaged in talks over a free trade pact since 2009. If confirmed - several details still need to be ironed out - it will enable Canada to invest in and sell to the 28-member bloc's 500 million consumers and visa versa.

According to EU figures, bilateral trade in goods between the two sides last year was worth 61.7 billion euros ($84 billion). Once implemented, Barroso said the pact could increase bilateral trade by up to 26 billion euros.

The EU is Ottawa's second-largest trading partner after the US, while Canada is the bloc's 11th.

Friday's preliminary accord is the EU's first such agreement with a Group of Eight country, a group comprising of the world's largest economies. It has also been touted as a possible template for a similar Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, which the EU is currently negotiating with the United States.

ccp/kms (AFP, dpa, Reuters)