UK and Canada begin negotiations for new free trade agreement

29 March 2022

A picture of the canadian flag on a luggage tag

As trade between the UK and Canada begin, we look at the export opportunities and the areas of concern for British farmers.

The UK and Canada have opened negotiations towards a new free trade agreement, a deal that the NFU believes could offer opportunities to increase exports of high-quality British food and drink.

Benefitting from existing EU-Canada trade agreement

The negotiations will build on a post-Brexit "roll-over" trade agreement, inherited from our time as members of the EU, under which UK producers already benefit from tariff-free trade on 98% of exported goods, including exports of our beef, lamb, pork, fruit, vegetables and some baked goods.

UK food and drink trade with Canada was worth £344m before the pandemic.

The NFU thinks our negotiators can go further and secure enhanced access to the Canadian market for poultry, which was excluded under the previous agreement, for greater volumes of dairy products including high-value cheeses and butter, and for sugar.

“The NFU maintains that new free trade agreements should ensure that there are safeguards for sensitive sectors, and that farmers are not undermined by increased food imports produced to standards that are illegal here.”

NFU President Minette Batters

Before the pandemic, the UK exported c.1,800t of cheese to Canada in 2019 worth £14.1 million.

The UK exports to Canada are typically high-value premium or speciality cheeses, making it an important market for the UK dairy sector to grow.

Protection for iconic goods

The NFU believes that securing greater access for UK exports of cheese to Canada, as well as protecting their iconic names (i.e. geographical indications (GI)), should be a top priority for UK negotiators.

Currently, the only UK products that benefit from GI protections in Canada are Scotch Whisky, Irish Whiskey, and Irish Cream.

We want negotiators to secure GI recognition for additional UK food and drink GIs including for our beef, lamb and iconic cheeses.

Greater access to UK beef and pork

In return the Canadian’s will undoubtedly want greater access to our beef and pork market. Canada is one of the largest beef exporters in the world, exporting more than half of what it produces and is the world’s third largest pork exporter, exporting 70% of its pork production.

It is essential that any market access is only provided for imports which meet UK production standards, including on food safety, animal welfare and environmental standards. This is in line with the UK Government commitment to uphold domestic standards.

Opportunities, but standards must be safeguarded

NFU President Minette Batters said the start of the talks was positive news.

“While we currently have some agri-food trade with Canada, there are opportunities available for British farmers to export more quality produce,” she said.

But she added: “The government must also recognise that Canada is a significant agricultural exporter that will want to increase its access to the prized UK market.

“The NFU maintains that new free trade agreements should ensure that there are safeguards for sensitive sectors, such as beef and pork in this case, and that farmers are not undermined by increased food imports produced to standards that are illegal here.

“The NFU would welcome a strengthening under all negotiated FTAs to ensure the UK farmer’s high production standards are protected both domestically, and from imports which do not meet those standards. This should include animal welfare and environmental requirements.

“The UK Government must also consider the cumulative impact of FTAs which are currently being negotiated and the ones just concluded and ensure that any concessions are considered in the whole, and in terms of the possible combined impact on the domestic sector.”

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