UK halts post-Brexit deal with Canada over beef and cheese row

Rishi Sunak’s government has halted talks with Canada on a post-Brexit trade deal due to a disagreement over beef and cheese.

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.

A row has erupted over Canada’s pushing for Britain to relax its ban on hormone-treated beef, which its producers say effectively shuts them out of the British market.

Canada’s government has been facing pressure from both its beef industry and domestic cheesemakers – also pushing to get better access to the UK market.

But a spokeswoman for Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, said she was “disappointed” at the talks had now fallen apart – saying as much to trade secretary Kemi Badenoch.

Ms Ng’s spokeswoman told the BBC: “Their decision to continue to maintain market access barriers for our agriculture industry and unwillingness to reach a mutual agreement has only stalled negotiations.”

Ms Ng added 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”.

A UK government source said Canada appeared to have “lost sight of the bigger picture – the British and Canadian businesses who do £26bn worth of trade a year and the people they employ”.

The source added: “If Canada come back to table with a serious offer and desire to make progress we’re all ears, but in the meantime we’re going to focus on other trade deals that deliver for UK businesses.”

Minette Batters, president of the Nation Farmers’ Union (NFU) of England and Wales, praised the Sunak government for having “stuck to its line and not given way”.

She told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it was essential that hormone-treated beef is not allowed into the country.

“It is a relief for farmers. This has been going on for a long time and it is about enhancing the trading relationship between the UK and Canada.”

The farming leader said agricultural products tended to be “the first thing to be discussed and the last thing to be agreed – I am pleased the government has stuck to its line and not given way”.

Ms Batters added: “Canada has played hardball for a long time. It was always going to come to a crunch point as to who was going to capitulate.”

The UK had been trading with Canada on terms that largely replicated the arrangements in place from the UK’s time in the EU. Negotiations began on a new agreement in March 2022.

The previous agreement had allowed the UK to continue to sell cars and cheese in the North American nation without Canada charging import tax.

“We reserve the right to pause negotiations with any country if progress is not being made,” said a UK government spokesperson on the collapse in talks.”

They added: “We remain open to restarting talks with Canada in the future to build a stronger trading relationship that benefits businesses and consumers on both sides of the Atlantic.”

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