Cheese for beef? British exporters concerned about losing cheese market access into Canada

British cheese companies are ramping up pressure on the UK government to reach a deal with Canada before they lose preferential market access in the Canadian market on December 31.

With the deadline looming, the cheese import issue has been linked with Canada’s long-standing quest for increased beef market access into the UK.

According to a Nov. 2 article in the London-based Financial Times, British trade experts say Canada may be unwilling to reciprocate on allowing cheese imports unless the UK opens up its market to Canadian beef.

As part of the post-Brexit trade continuity deal between Canada and the UK, British cheese exporters were allowed to fill the tariff-free import quotas allocated to the European Union as part of the Canada-EU trade deal for three years. While negotiations are ongoing on a permanent Canada-UK trade deal, the temporary side arrangement for cheese imports is set to expire in less than two months.

A major British cheese exporter, Coombe Castle International, has written a letter to the UK’s trade secretary on behalf of 13 companies, saying exports to Canada account for a third of their business. They say the uncertainty is already costing them business with Canadian customers.

“Every extra day the government takes to negotiate an extension or permanent outcome is a day during which we can’t plan and are thus at the risk of losing contracts with our Canadian partners,” says Coombe’s Darren Larvin.

The UK is also in the process of joining the CPTPP trade deal, which would include dairy market access into Canada, however the British cheese exporters note any access under the terms of the Pacific trade agreement won’t take effect until the end of 2024, at the earliest.

The Canadian beef and meat sectors — normally major proponents of trade deals — are campaigning to have the Canadian government delay its approval for the UK’s ascension into the CPTPP.

The Canadian Cattle Association, Canadian Meat Council, and National Cattle Feeders’ Association say the proposed terms for bringing the UK into the Pacific trade pact do not meet the scientific standards of the CPTPP and politicize food safety rules as the agreement while failing to address the UK’s non-tariff trade barriers against Canadian meat exports.

In 2022, the UK exported 4,414 tonnes of beef to Canada worth C$33.2 million, while Canada did not export any beef to the UK, mainly due to the UK not recognizing carcass washes used at Canadian packing plants.

“Beef farmers and ranchers produce the highest quality beef, with superior food safety standards and we will not lower our standards for any trade deal. The CPTPP sets a high standard for progressive trade and the deal proposed with the UK would set a dangerous precedent for future countries looking to join,” said Canadian Cattle Association (CCA) president Nathan Phinney, when launching the “Say No to a Bad Deal” campaign in September.

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