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.
Batters said, “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.”
“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.”
The NFU says that 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.
“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.”
The National Sheep Association (NSA) also commended the Department for Business and Trade (DBT) for its firm stance on trade amid Canada quota talks.
NSA Chief Executive Phil Stocker said, “NSA supports this robust and tough stance in negotiating the future trading relationship between UK and Canada – we have to learn from lessons with the New Zealand and Australia deals and must do nothing to undermine Britain’s high standards of animal welfare and food safety – two key components of an ability to undercut the price of British food on our shelves.”
The NSA said that Canada had been pushing for the UK to relax a ban on hormone-treated beef, whilst also threatening to impose import taxes of up to 245% on British cheese products.
Mr Stocker continues “It is encouraging to see that in this instance where Canada was asking too much and offering too little, the Government was able to make the difficult decision to walk away, protecting our own producers as a result.”