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CCA calls for retaliation against British beef

Canada’s ambassador to Britain says retaliation carries risks that may prove more dangerous than beneficial.
The Canadian Cattle Association says the federal government should “take beef completely off the table” if the United Kingdom leaves trade talks with Canada.

WESTERN PRODUCER — Canada should consider banning imports of United Kingdom beef if the U.K. abandons trade talks, says Canada’s main cattle producer organization.

“If they’re going to continue to not have open dialogue and follow the science, we encourage our government to take beef completely off the table,” said Nathan Phinney, president of the Canadian Cattle Association.

Ralph Goodale, Canada’s high commissioner to the U.K., acknowledged the British walk-out raises the question of trade retaliation, given that the U.K. has refused access to Canadian beef for years even though Canada is open to British beef.

“If they’re not negotiating, the U.K. isn’t providing many useful alternatives,” said Goodale in a Jan. 26 interview.

However, retaliation carries risks.

“That’s probably not advisable because then you get on that slippery spiral downward, downward, downward, where trade is put in jeopardy,” said Goodale. “We wouldn’t want to use that technique, but it is potentially open.”

Canada and the U.K. have a $45 billion trading relationship, the product of hundreds of years of interaction. Brexit added wrinkles to that relationship, with the U.K. repeatedly stating it wants to sign trade deals with the non-European Union world, while retaining vestiges of the EU era.

To keep trade flowing, Canada and the U.K. signed the Trade Continuity Agreement, which indefinitely extends most provisions within the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with Europe. Access to Canada’s cheese market, however, was a temporary provision that expired at the end of 2023.

Canada has never had access for its beef, since the U.K. kept the EU approach to food safety approvals that require other countries to mimic its system. Canada is opposed to this approach, since it has what it considers an equivalent or better system in terms of food safety, but “it’s not the same,” Goodale said.

That has allowed the U.K. to block Canadian beef imports due to this country’s use of artificial hormone implants. Canada and the Canadian cattle industry resist the U.K.’s anti-hormone stance since it is not founded upon or backed by scientific analysis.

Goodale said Canada has attempted to sort this disagreement at the negotiating table without success.

Taking Britain to trade adjudication would be a less dangerous path than retaliation, but the main adjudication processes are lengthy and mostly ineffective.

“If you don’t have a truly functional dispute settlement mechanism with credibility and enforceability, then the non-tariff trade barriers just keep floating through and causing havoc and unfairness,” said Goodale. “We need to get the rules fixed around dispute settlement.”

That isn’t likely to happen soon.

Canada’s cattle producers and government hope the British government returns to the negotiating table to resolve the beef dispute and another one involving British imports of cheese, but a British election this year may affect the process.

Canada could let the situation linger, or it could retaliate and hope that leads to a good result. It could also make an official trade complaint through the World Trade Organization, despite its flaws.

“The options are not very good,” Goodale said.