UK-Canada trade talks halted over safeguarding British food standards

The union jack and canadian flags

Photograph: ArchonCodex / Alamy Stock Photo

The NFU has said the UK Government was right to stand its ground following an announcement last week that it was suspending free-trade talks with Canada.

While the NFU is pressing for a resolution, NFU President Minette Batters said the government was clear on its position regarding food safety, especially after much-criticised deals with Australia and New Zealand.

“The government’s decision to walk away from trade talks aimed at enhancing the trading relationship between the UK and Canada would have been difficult, but it’s the right decision,” Minette said.

“On products such as beef and cheese, Canada was demanding too much and offering too little, therefore preventing progress to the benefit of both countries.”

Lowering UK standards ‘not an option’

Minette went on to say: “During those negotiations, we understand that Canada made repeated attempts to force the UK to change its food safety rules and to extract unreasonable concessions for maintaining our preferential access to its cheese market.

“While there is give and take within every trade deal, the UK Government has been clear that lowering the UK’s high standards of food safety is not an option, in these and all negotiations. This position is wholeheartedly supported by the NFU and also the million members of the public who signed our petition to safeguard British food standards in 2020.

“We have always urged the UK Government to secure balanced trade agreements that benefit both British consumers and British producers, and to avoid bad deals that give away too much for the sake of getting a deal over the line. I’m pleased the government seems to be following that approach in its announcement today.”

On products such as beef and cheese, Canada was demanding too much and offering too little, therefore preventing progress to the benefit of both countries.”

NFU President Minette Batters

Last year, the UK exported £198.1 million worth of food to Canada, with cheese being one of the top products. While Canada exported food worth £557.7 million to the UK, with wheat and maize at the top.

Canada had allowed tariff-free British cheese imports under a temporary ‘roll-over’ arrangement agreed when post-Brexit trade rules came into effect, but that expired on 31 December 2023.

As of 1 January 2024, UK cheese was moved out of the quota reserved for ‘EU use’, and into a much smaller quota, which is routinely filled to its capacity and means UK producers, among them NFU members, will be competing against many more global exporters and subject to prohibitive import taxes.

The UK Government has said it is “open to restarting talks with Canada in the future”.

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