UK breaks off FTA talks with Canada

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Talks on a proposed FTA between Canada and the UK have broken down due to disagreements on agricultural trade rules.

The UK has walked away from negotiations with Canada over a potential free trade agreement (FTA) after the two sides were unable to reach an accord over access to agricultural markets.

Discussions have been underway since March 2022 on a deal, which would supersede the existing agreement that was rolled over after the UK left the EU in 2020. However, the UK is said to have been unhappy about a lack of progress on key issues.

Among the main disagreements were the UK's unwillingness to relax its rules barring the import of hormone-treated beef - a principle demand of Ottawa - while the UK has also been unhappy about new tariffs of up to 245 percent on British cheese products.

The breakdown in talks could also lead to higher duties on the import of UK-manufactured cars to Canada, which had continued to enjoy tariff-free access under the interim post-Brexit agreement.

A UK government spokesperson said: “We have always said we will only negotiate trade deals that deliver for the British people. And we reserve the right to pause negotiations with any country if progress is not being made."

They added the UK is open to restarting talks in the future in order to continue working towards a stronger trading relationship between the nations.

A spokesperson for Canadian trade minister, Mary Ng expressed disappointment over the move, stating: "[The UK's] decision to continue to maintain market access barriers for our agriculture industry and unwillingness to reach a mutual agreement has only stalled negotiations.”

They added that Ms Ng has been in contact with her UK counterpart Kemi Badenoch to directly convey Canada's unhappiness.

The UK agricultural sector, however, has welcomed the news, as it had previously warned that relaxing rules on beef imports - as had occurred in FTAs with Australia and New Zealand - would be bad for British farmers.

According to UK data, Canada is the country's 18th-largest trading partner, with total bilateral trade amounting to £25.9 billion in the year to June 2023. Meanwhile, Canadian figures indicate the UK accounts for 2.7 percent of the country's total trade.