Britain’s trade talks with Canada break down over beef and cheese

LONDON (AP) — The British government has called off post-Brexit trade talks with Canada after discussions broke down over disagreements related to the import and export of beef and cheese.

The two countries have been negotiating a new trade deal over the past two years since Britain fully left the European Union. Trade between the two has largely continued under the same deal that was originally brokered when Britain was a member of the bloc.

In a statement late Thursday, the UK government said it “remains open” to restarting talks in the future but that there was no progress so far. Annual trade between the two countries is valued at around 26 billion pounds ($33 billion).

Over time as the discussions pushed ahead, Canadian negotiators came under mounting pressure from their beef industry and domestic cheesemakers.

The beef industry wanted access to the United Kingdom for its hormone-fed beef while the cheesemakers warned about the economic impact of tariff-free cheese from Britain, primarily cheddar. Tariff-free cheese exports from Britain stopped at the end of 2023 after a time-limited side agreement expired, leaving British producers facing higher duties of 245 per cent.

Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that the Canadian government “will never agree to a deal that isn’t good for our workers, farmers and businesses.”

Minette Batters, president of the Nation Farmers’ Union of England and Wales, praised the British government, especially its apparent refusal to allow hormone-linked beef to be allowed into Britain.

“Trade on agricultural products is always the first thing to be discussed and the last thing to be agreed,” she said. “I am pleased the government has stuck to its line and not given way,”

One of the main benefits that was being pushed during Britain’s 2016 referendum on its membership of the EU was that it would allow the country to pursue its independent trade policy.

However, few new trade deals have been negotiated since Brexit, and any ensuing benefits are widely considered to be modest when put against the impediments to trade that have now been put in place between Britain and the EU. Before Brexit, Britain could trade freely within the bloc.

Britain’s Conservative government, which negotiated the post-Brexit trade deal with the EU, sought to downplay the breakdown in the talks with Canada.

“It is a benefit of our independent trading status that we are able to insist on the detail of each and every deal to ensure that it works, specifically in the UK interests,” said Camilla Marshall, a spokeswoman for Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

“We are open to restarting talks with Canada in the future where we can build a trading relationship that benefits businesses and consumers on both sides,” she added. “There is no schedule for those.”

With the talks breakdown, there are renewed worries British cars could see higher tariffs from April on exports, when another temporary tariff-free agreement — similar to the one involving cheese — is due to expire.

The British Chambers of Commerce said the breakdown in the talks was “unwelcome news” and urged the government to help sectors affected.

“For our dairy exporters and parts of our manufacturing industry the loss of key trade preferences puts them in a worse position than before 2020,” said William Bain, the chamber’s trade policy chief.

Britain’s main opposition Labour Party, which is far ahead of the Conservatives in polls ahead of a general election sometime this year, said the collapse of the talks was another “significant failure” by the government to deliver on its post-Brexit promises.