OTTAWA - Free trade talks with the European Union have arrived at the endgame, and Ottawa is signalling that it is prepared to give the Europeans part of what they asked for on drug patents — a move that could cost Canadians up to $900 million a year.
International Trade Minister Ed Fast is heading to Brussels next week to meet with his European counterpart to take negotiations for the Canada-Europe free-trade agreement to the next level.
Fast and Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz hope to hammer out the final details and bring talks to a close in the coming weeks, all while pushing a public relations campaign to persuade Canadians of the deal's benefits.
Government and industry sources say Fast is willing to give the EU longer patent protection for brand-name pharmaceuticals, despite pressure from Canada's generic drug industry and provinces opposed to higher drug costs.
A deal would mean provincial governments, employers and consumers would end up having to buy brand-name drugs for a longer period, rather than their cheaper generic versions.
An internal government calculation puts the cost of the measure at between $367 million and $903 million a year.