The UK has formally suspended trade talks with Canada after it had been pushing the UK to relax its ban on hormone-treated beef.
The two nations have been negotiating for the last two years, with trade continuing under the old arrangements brokered when the UK was a member of the EU. The time-limited agreement facilitated the UK to continue to sell cheese – and other items such as cars – without high import taxes.
According to the UK Government, total goods trade between the two countries was worth £19.2 billion in 2020, with UK imports from Canada worth £7.3 billion and UK exports to Canada worth £11.8 billion.
Talks about extending these as part of a new deal have now broken down, marking the first time the UK has formally suspended talks with a trade partner since formally leaving the EU trading regime in 2021.
“Relief” for UK farmers
The row erupted over Canada’s pushing for Britain to relax its ban on hormone-treated beef, which Canadian producers say effectively shuts them out of the British market. Meanwhile, the UK has concerns about Canada putting import taxes of up to 245% on British cheese products.
According to the BBC, the halt in trade negotiations means that “the UK’s trading terms with Canada will now be worse than when it was part of the EU’s deal with the country”.
Minette Batters, president of the National Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, said she was glad the UK government had not “given way” on hormone-treated beef and that the news would be a “relief for farmers”.
“We have already damaged our economy and agricultural sector by fully liberalising on trade deals with Australia and New Zealand. We had to take a strong line on this,” she explained.
The Canadian Cattle Association said it backed its government’s “hard-line approach” on beef rules, stating that “Canada’s food safety system is widely recognised as one of the finest in the world”.
A spokesperson for the UK Government told the BBC that it reserved the right to “pause negotiations with any country if progress is not being made”. The statement continued: “We have always said we will only negotiate trade deals that deliver for the British people. We remain open to restarting talks with Canada in the future to build a stronger trading relationship.”
A spokeswoman for Canada’s trade minister said they were “disappointed” at the pause in talks and had communicated this to UK business secretary Kemi Badenoch.
“Their decision to continue to maintain market access barriers for our agriculture industry and unwillingness to reach a mutual agreement has only stalled negotiations,” the source told the BBC.
They continued: “The UK is a long-standing trading partner, and I am confident that we can negotiate an agreement that is win-win for Canada and for the UK. But let me be clear – we will not negotiate an agreement that is not good for Canadians – and not good for our Canadian businesses, farmers and workers”.
Politicians in the UK have been quick to point out Brexit’s impact on the breakdown of trade negotiations between the two nations.
Labour’s shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, said: “This is very concerning news…rather than strengthening our trading position post-Brexit, these failures have left us in a weaker position.”
SNP international trade spokesperson, Richard Thomson, commented: “Westminster’s Brexit has damaged the UK’s potential for global trade and has dragged Scotland’s economy down with it.”
Former environment secretary George Eustice said that the UK was “right to suspend negotiations,” and that Canada should “accept the need to comply with British food standards”.
Eustice said the government had to ensure that “any access granted for hormone-free beef from Canada is matched with access for UK dairy into the Canadian market”.
In 2020, a similar row arose after the UK Government said it was open to the possibility of allowing imports of US chlorinated chicken, in order to secure a post-Brexit trade deal between the two countries.
The Prime Minister at the time, Boris Johnson, announced that the government was willing to consider the import of certain US farm products, including chlorine-dipped chicken and eggs and hormone-treated beef and pork, as part of a planned trade deal with the US.
Under the proposed deal, certain US products that were banned from sale would have been able to enter the UK, with possible tariffs in place to protect UK farmers and producers who operate at higher welfare standards.
At the time, UK supermarket Waitrose said it would never sell chlorinated chicken and hormone-injected beef, firing a warning to the UK Government over alleged talks of a post-Brexit trade deal with the US.
The retailer’s CEO, James Bailey, said that the supermarket would never stock such products, backing calls to prevent the loosening of food standards under the potential trade agreement.
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