OTTAWA, March 14 (Xinhua) -- Canada is considering the type of contribution it can make to a proposed peacekeeping mission in Mali, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said here Thursday during a news conference with his visiting French counterpart.
"We are not looking to have a combat military mission there," said Harper, who did say that Canada would provide development and humanitarian assistance, but the details have yet to be worked out.
French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, who began a four-day visit to Canada Wednesday, thanked Canada for agreeing in January to send a C-17 military transport plane to support the French-led mission in Mali.
The aircraft, which will remain in the former French colony " as long as we feel there is a need," according to Harper, allowed France to move troops quickly and provide "good logistical support," said Ayrault.
France is pushing the United Nations to hold a vote next month to approve a peacekeeping mission in the embattled West African country where al-Qaida-affiliated Islamist extremists took control of the northern half of the country in January.
Ayrault said the entire region's security is at stake. "In fact, our own security is at risk as well."
In a joint statement, Canada and France expressed support for a free-trade agreement between Canada and the European Union (EU), in which divisions remain, over such issues as intellectual property rights regarding brand-name drugs and access to each other's agricultural exports, Ayrault told reporters.
However, Harper said it would be "advantageous" for Canada to have such an agreement before the United States, which has begun talks on a similar accord with the EU, does.
"I also think it's important for the Europeans to have such success in North America before really launching a discussion, which will be in my opinion difficult, with the United States."
At a dinner Wednesday in honor of the French Prime Minister's first official visit to Canada since taking office last May, the Canadian Prime Minister said a Canada-EU free-trade pact would also boost trade between Canada and France.
Harper noted that bilateral trade is near 9 billion Canadians dollars annually, and that French companies have invested more than 15 billion dollars, with "a significant presence in the Alberta oil sands."
During Ayrault's visit to Ottawa, Canada and France also signed several agreements, including one involving research to explore the potential of using commercially grown microalgae to " safely and effectively remove certain greenhouse gases from industrial emissions."
Ayrault's following legs are Toronto, Montreal and Quebec City. (1 U.S. dollar = 1.0222 Canadian dollars)
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