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Canada vows ‘vigorous’ push for UK to accept hormone beef in trade deal

LONDON — Canada will make the case for Britain to accept imports of hormone-treated beef with “vigor and conviction,” a top Canadian official has said, as the two sides try to strengthen their post-Brexit trade ties.

Ralph Goodale, the Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom, said improved market access for the controversial treated meat was “legitimate and appropriate and should be forthcoming” as the two sides discuss a bilateral trade deal plus Britain’s wider ambitions to join a highly-prized Pacific trade bloc.

Hormone beef, which sees cows given growth hormones to boost meat production, is controversial with animal welfare advocates and some opposition politicians in the U.K. Britain maintained an EU ban on hormone beef imports after Brexit, but Canada, whose farmers do use growth hormones in farming, argue that ban lacks a clear scientific basis. 

London insists it will never compromise on its food standards as part of new trade deals, while observers do not expect the Canadians to win on the issue. Instead, the expectation is it will be a point of leverage to squeeze other wins out of the U.K. 

In an interview with POLITICO at the end of the first round of talks between London and Ottawa on an updated free-trade deal, Goodale made clear that the Canadian negotiators expect the U.K. to lift its longstanding ban on hormone-treated beef. “Canadian food products, including beef and meats of all kinds, are among the highest quality and safest anywhere in the world,” he declared. 

He said of improved market access for the beef: “It’s a very legitimate argument and we will make it with vigor and conviction.”

Goodale meanwhile hinted that Canada could play hardball over Britain’s accession to the 11-nation Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) — of which Canada is a member — unless the U.K. gives ground on the separate bilateral agreement.

He said the two negotiations are distinct and that he did not expect one to be an “impediment” to the other. But he conceded there could be some political cut-across, with “factors or issues that arise in one that would inform or have an impact on the other.”

Britain and Canada launched the talks to replace the EU-Canada deal that was rolled over for the U.K. after Brexit. Ottawa comes to the bilateral talks from a position of relative strength, because the current rollover deal was negotiated while the U.K. was a member of the EU — a massive trade bloc with significant clout.

Goodale insisted Canada would not think of the U.K. as a “weaker partner” despite its size difference with the EU. 

Now Britain is negotiating alone, the Canadians might seek to roll back some of the measures in the current trading arrangements. But Goodale said the updated agreement was being looked at as “an expansion not a contraction” of the existing deal, and said Canada would not seek to take advantage of Britain.

Rather, he said negotiating with the U.K. alone could be a benefit because a smaller, more nimble nation might be more flexible and creative than the EU. 

“It will be interesting to see what dynamics come to the table, when you’ve just got two specific countries that are, in the case of the UK, in a position to be perhaps more flexible, more novel, more innovative than they could have been when it was the entire EU, which is a large and and sometimes a bit of a cumbersome apparatus,” he argued. 

Battles to come

Nevertheless, Goodale made clear Canada will fight hard on some of its most protected sectors. For example, he offered little hope for U.K. farmers that Ottawa will liberalize restrictions on British cheese imports to Canada. 

Under the terms of the EU rollover deal, the U.K. has an allowance on tariff-free cheese exports to Canada that is set to tighten in 2024 unless a new arrangement is agreed with the EU.

Goodale said Britain would have to battle Brussels to get its portion of the EU quota on cheese exports to Canada handed over on a permanent basis — something the EU might be unwilling to discuss.

“This is one of the lingering consequences of Brexit,” he said, stressing that Canada will not be increasing its quota for tariff-free cheese imports overall. “The U.K. share is included in the EU number and therefore that’s an issue that really does need to be resolved with the EU.”

However, Goodale struck a more positive tone on other issues. He suggested Canada would allow the U.K. to continue considering imported EU parts as home-made, in order to be eligible for tariff-free trade under domestic production rules, assuming the arrangements were reciprocal. 

And he said Canada would be open to some form of visa arrangements with the U.K. provided an agreement was reciprocal. However, the issue of visas is politically charged in the U.K. so London may attempt to avoid discussion of easing long-term access for Canadian workers. 

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