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UK-Canada Trade Deal: Suspension of Negotiations

Volume 835: debated on Tuesday 30 January 2024


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of the suspension of negotiations for a trade deal with Canada.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. The pause in negotiations does not impact our existing trade agreement with Canada, which underpins £26 billion- worth of trade per annum. The UK has decided to pause negotiations towards a new UK-Canada FTA in response to actions taken by Canada that reduce our current market access. Negotiations were launched with public commitments to increase and improve trade. Recent additions by Canada do the opposite. It is right, therefore, to pause the negotiations.

My Lords, post-Brexit trade negotiations are in total chaos. George Eustice, who was Environment Secretary in the Cabinet at the time, described the deal with Australia as a “failure”. Now we have pulled out unilaterally from the Canadian deal. Is that because the Secretary of State is too busy plotting, or perhaps because we do not have enough qualified people to negotiate with Canada? On what basis and terms do we crawl back in to ask Canada to restart negotiations?

I fundamentally disagree that we are in chaos; quite the opposite. We are making great progress. The first thing that we did when we left the EU was do a trade deal with Europe that involved rolling over trade deals with 65 countries. We have now improved that with a further seven deals. When I was in Canberra two months before Christmas, the Australia deal was held up as one of the best deals it had ever signed. As we move through, because our economy is 80% services and 20% goods, we have now got trade deals that encompass services, digital and innovation.

We wanted to do the same deal with Canada, but Canada crossed one of our red lines. The negotiations have not failed. The noble Lord and I have done many negotiations together—we sometimes have moments of pause. The Canadians have crossed a red line where they know we would never accept the hormone beef trade deal that they want to do with us. We have said no to that, which is why we have stopped.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the position they have taken by pausing the trade talks at this time, reflecting the high production standards that our farmers have to meet in this country. Could my noble friend explain what the position is specifically on exports of British cheese to Canada, including the excellent cheese produced in north Yorkshire? I understand it now suffers from a 245% tariff on export to Canada.

Cheese is now a pawn in the game, and that has now become the focus of attention. When we were in the EU, we had 2,000 out of 14,000 tonnes of cheese allocated to us. That has now been taken away and allocated to Europe—France and Germany, mostly. We are now allocated 6,000 for the rest of the world. Canada knew that we had a right to roll that over to 2,000 within the WTO trade agreement. We do not have that now. That is £18 million of trade. Out of £26 billion, one might say that is a small number, but we know that the farms in Somerset and Wales in particular, which produce incredible quality cheese, have built up a superior market share in Canada. The Canadian consumer wants this cheese and has been buying and stockpiling it for six months in advance of this happening. This has only happened because the Canadian farmers want to send hormone beef to the UK and we refuse to drop our standards, as some people said we would do when we left the EU.

My Lords, among the letters I received from Ministers after every trade negotiating round with Canada, saying everything was on track, the letter telling me that things had gone off the rails—sorry, “paused”—must have gone astray. That information that the Minister gave is not new information. I warned the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, last summer, after I led a CPA delegation on trade to Ottawa and Toronto, of the difficulties—but he ignored them. That is compounded by the fact that businesses are now paying £100,000 more per business for trade with Europe and new checks will be coming into place tomorrow. So when does the Minister forecast that we will have frictionless trade with Europe?

With Europe, as the noble Lord knows, when we agreed to join what was then the European Common Market, Europe accounted for one-third of global trade. We all know that, when we left in 2019, that was 16% of global trade. In 2050, the OECD says it will be 9% of global trade. So the UK has tilted to where the market is. The market is in the Indo-Pacific, which is why we joined the CPTPP. The last time I looked at the map, Britain was not anywhere near the Pacific. We managed to get America’s place in the CPTPP, which is 40% of the world’s fastest-growing consumers. As we sign those trade deals and go around with Vietnam, Indonesia, Korea and Japan, we are building out a trade base for our farmers and manufacturers which is far greater than they had in Europe.

My Lords, I recognise the importance of the safeguards on beef, which I am sure are of concern to everyone. However, does the Minister not accept the point made by the noble Baroness a moment ago about the impact on cheese manufacturers? It is not only the extent of the charges that will hit them but the speed with which they may come in, and there could be very serious cash flow implications for many manufacturers. Can the Government please look at some possible relief for such companies, which may be suffering as a direct consequence of these changes?

I thank the noble Lord for that question. We fundamentally agree with that. We have been talking with the cheese manufacturers all the way through this. We send £200 million-worth of food to Canada and it sends us the thick end of £600 million back, mostly wheat, maize and lobster. However, we do not want to take the hormone beef. That is where the beef is. The issue, therefore, is that we have £18 million of trade that we need to try to support, and we will do our best to support those impeccable farmers, especially in the West Country and in Wales.

My Lords, Canada is notorious for gearing its trade policy around its dairy sector, which is particularly strong in Quebec. However, is not the wider issue here whether Britain will always follow EU rules on sanitary and phytosanitary standards? According to the WTO, SPS measures must never be economic and can be justified only by science. The EU’s ban on these various kinds of beef has been condemned by its own scientific advisory agency and by the WTO. Is it the view of my noble friend the Minister that our SPS regime, as long as it is tied to the Brussels one, it is compatible with WTO regulations?

This is the issue. Canada has been in a recent—2016—deal with the EU and understood the SPS rules of the EU. It understands fundamentally that we are not reducing our rules on SPS, but it has seen an opportunity, and you go for the gap when you see the opportunity, do you not? If you are a trade negotiator, you think to yourself, “Where can I get my point of advantage?” On our two outstanding issues, the cheese and the rules of origin—where, again, we are pretty much sorted with a rollover from the EU—Canada has seen an opportunity to cross that line. It is a pause in negotiations and we will get back round the table as soon as it comes back over the red line.

My Lords, the Institute for Government has warned that the Government’s failure to set out red lines on key issues in trade talks is a “recipe for disaster” and could delay new trade agreements. They now need to move urgently to put them in place, otherwise they will find themselves losing control of trade negotiations to better-prepared partners. What assessments have the Government made of the size and experience of negotiating teams as part of the recent machinery of government changes?

I thank the noble Lord for that. That is one of the reasons why we split up BEIS and put it into different, independent departments. However, my department, the Department for Business and Trade, is now well equipped to lead these negotiations. As I say, we have done the 65 country rollovers; we are now up to 73 countries and we have another 12 in the pipeline. We have a chief negotiator, Crawford Faulkner, who came in from New Zealand— I declare an interest in that he was born in Greenock, around the corner from me—who is doing an excellent job. The issue here is that our economy is now 80% services and 20% goods, but our exports are 50:50, which is because our goods are good. They go around the world and everyone wants to buy them. However, the direction of travel will be two-thirds services, one- third goods, which is why we need new trade agreements that cover services—not just goods—digital and innovation. That is exactly what we have with Australia, and that is what we are trying to achieve with Canada. I am hopeful that we will be able to get the show back on the road with Canada.

My Lords, following the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will the Minister at least assure us that trade with our nearest and biggest market is still important to us? Will he perhaps also reflect on some of the problems of trading with countries very far away, both in terms of environmental impact and of course recently in terms of the very worrying security situation in the Red Sea?

I thank the noble Baroness for that. Indeed, the EU 27 still account for 40% or 41% of our exports. If you expand that to the euro 34, it is 49% of our exports. So 50% of our trade is still with Europe, 20% is with America and 30% is with the rest of the world. But the direction of travel is that the growth will come from the rest of the world, not just in Europe. Europe will remain important. In terms of our goods, the sticky part of our pie chart has been our manufactured goods to Europe, which is 24%. That has been difficult—but the other 76% is going gangbusters.