OTTAWA — Britain's envoy to Ottawa suggests that an uproar in the Prairies over expanded trade agreements could be overcome if ranchers rejig their use of hormones — and she says an additional bilateral deal between Canada and London would give both countries an edge over Europe.
"We have quite similar approaches to trade," said British High Commissioner Susannah Goshko.
"Any negotiation — even when you're negotiating with friends — requires you to think quite hard. Nobody signs up to something that isn't in their national interest, as well as in the collective interest."
She was speaking just days after the announcement of the United Kingdom's ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The 11 countries that helped craft the deal have approved the U.K.'s membership in principle, though member states will still have to individually ratify Britain’s membership.
Ottawa pushed to get the pact's first prospective member outside of the Pacific Rim into the club. It's a major coup for a country trying to make the most of its decision to leave the European Union, which isn't part of the Pacific deal.
"This takes it from being a Pacific agreement, which is what it's been to date, to a global agreement," Goshko said Wednesday in a wide-ranging interview.
"We're pretty excited about it, and very grateful to Canada for working with us on the process."
International Trade Minister Mary Ng has praised Britain for joining the deal, saying it will help Ottawa work with London to pursue mutual interests in the Indo-Pacific region.
Canada and Britain are separately negotiating a bilateral trade deal, but both governments say having each other in the Pacific pact will make it easier to finish the two-way negotiations.
Yet Canada's cattle sector has promised to mobilize against both deals over a long-standing dispute on beef.
The U.K. has held back on importing beef treated with certain hormones that are widely used by Canadian ranchers, who argue the Brits' concern isn't grounded in science. Such trade disputes fall under what are called sanitary and phytosanitary measures, or SPS, along with pesticide residue and genetically modified organisms.
"We have said from the outset that we do have some things in place around SPS standards, where we're not willing to compromise," Goshko said.
"We aren't willing to put those aside in order to conclude an agreement. People in the U.K. have been really clear with politicians on what their expectations are on that."
The Canadian Cattle Association argues that this logic goes against the trade deal's objective to harmonize standards across countries.
The industry says it's already upset with a trade imbalance under the interim trade agreement Canada signed with Britain after its exit from the European Union. That interim deal largely maintained the access the U.K. had as part of the bloc.
The association says that while the U.K. exported some $33 million worth of beef to Canada last year, Canadian farmers sent virtually none back overseas.
"The UK’s bid to join should be rejected until they can do better to meet the progressive trade principles of the CPTPP," the association said in a statement.
Goshko says ranchers should take advantage of the fact the Pacific deal will allow for more trade in beef, and raise more Canadian cows specifically bound for Britain, without using the hormones the U.K. rejects.
"In the past, what people have said to us is that the quota is not significant enough for farmers to think about whether they might want … to change their farming approach, in order to be able to service that market," she said.
"Now that the quota is more significant, there is now a decision for farmers to make about whether it's in their interest to do that. We would welcome Canadian farmers taking up those quotas, but they will need to comply with our standards."
She said that Canada and Britain were both tough negotiators and have reached an agreement with the Pacific bloc that puts both countries on a better footing.
"Negotiations are always tough," she said, adding that the multilateral deal could remove a key sticking point in the ongoing bilateral trade talks.
Britain has long asked for Canada to allow it to export a higher quota of tariff-free cheese than it got in the Canada-EU deal,but Ottawa has insisted it won't open its supply-managed dairy sector.
The Pacific deal will allow for a quota on top ofwhatever the U.K. and Canada negotiate, giving the U.K. "an avenue," Goshko said — but she wouldn't specify whether the cheese quota issue has been resolved, citing the fact that bilateral talks are ongoing.
Canada's deal with the EU is otherwise only a "baseline," Goshko said, saying the two countries are trying to "put something in place that goes further."
She said that likely involves green technology and digital trade.
"We can afford to do things within the free-trade agreement that are potentially quite groundbreaking."
She added that Ottawa and London are deliberately trying to craft a deal that genuinely boosts exports on both sides. While Canada's deal with Europe came into force five years ago, more European goods are reaching Canada than are going in the opposite direction.
Goshko said there will likely be an educational program to make sure smaller firms know how to use the deal once it’s in place.
"This is a conversation that we've had at the most senior levels. The U.K. and Canada are in the same place entirely on this," she said.
"If you are a small or medium enterprise, trade agreements that are very cumbersome don't necessarily help you. So we're determined with this one to really make sure this is something that works on behalf of those businesses that form the backbone of two-way trade between the U.K. and Canada."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 6, 2023.
Dylan Robertson, The Canadian Press