- Written by Paul Seddon
- Politics reporter
The UK has halted its trade talks with Canada, nearly two years after a post-Brexit deal, following a row over beef and cheese.
Trade between the two countries currently takes place under the terms of a deal that the UK has been delaying since it was a member of the EU.
A time-limited agreement allowed the UK to continue selling cars and cheese without high import taxes.
But talks about extending it as part of a new deal have now collapsed.
This is the first time the UK has formally suspended talks with a trading partner since formally leaving the EU trading system in 2021.
It will also mean that the UK's trading terms with Canada will now be worse than when they were part of the EU deal with Canada.
British car companies now face the prospect of higher tariffs – import duties – for selling into the Canadian market from the beginning of April.
Higher Canadian tariffs on British cheese had already begun earlier this month, after previous terms expired at the end of 2023.
Talks between the two countries regarding reaching a detailed agreement have been ongoing since March 2022.
The Canadian government was facing political pressure from local cheese producers.
It has also been pressing the UK to ease its ban on hormone-treated beef, which its producers say effectively prevents them from entering the British market.
A spokeswoman for Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng said she was “disappointed” that the talks had stalled, and informed British Business Minister Kimmy Badenoch of this.
“Their decision to continue to maintain market access barriers to our agricultural industry and unwillingness to reach a mutual agreement has only served to stall the negotiations,” the spokeswoman added.
“The United Kingdom is a long-term trading partner and I am confident that we can negotiate a win-win agreement for Canada and the United Kingdom,” he added.
“But let me be clear – we will not negotiate an agreement that is not in the best interest of Canadians – and not in the best interest of our Canadian businesses, farmers and workers.”
A British government spokeswoman said it reserves the right to “temporarily stop negotiations with any country if progress is not made.”
They added: “We have always said that we will only negotiate trade deals that benefit the British people.”
“We are open to resuming talks with Canada in the future to build a stronger trade relationship.”
A British government source said: “If Canada returns to the table with a serious offer and a desire to make progress, we will all listen.”
Total merchandise trade between the two countries reached 19.2 billion pounds sterling in 2020. According to the UK governmentwith UK imports from Canada worth £7.3 billion and UK exports to Canada worth £11.8 billion.
Minnette Butters, president of the National Farmers' Union of England and Wales, said the decision was a “relief for farmers”.
She told BBC Radio 4's Today program that she was pleased that “the government has stuck to its line and has not backed down”.
“We have already damaged our economy and agricultural sector by fully liberalizing trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. We have had to take a strong stance on this.”
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