Canada and the European Union are committed to creating a comprehensive trade agreement despite the uncertainty caused by the global credit...

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QUEBEC CITY — Canada and the European Union are committed to creating a comprehensive trade agreement despite the uncertainty caused by the global credit crisis, Canada’s prime minister said Friday after meeting with French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

Canada’s drift toward stronger economic ties with Europe comes as the U.S. economy slows and years after the two neighbors signed a free-trade pact. The U.S. receives about 80 percent of Canada’s exports.

Tough economic times make it crucial for closer cooperation, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said after talks with Sarkozy and José Manuel Barroso, the head of the European Commission.

“Canada and the EU will prepare formal mandates with a view to launching negotiations on an economic partnership as soon as possible in 2009,” Harper said.

“We must stand against protectionism and work to lower and eliminate barriers,” he said.

Officials say a possible Canada-EU trade agreement would allow for Canadian and European workers to work in each other’s regions and for EU and Canadian companies to bid on government procurements.