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trade stalemate uks post brexit challenge with canada over key tariff agreements 64

Trade News

Trade Stalemate: UK's Post-Brexit Challenge with Canada Over Key Tariff Agreements

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Leo Gonzalez

March 31, 2024 - 06:31 am

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Trade Troubles: UK and Canada Fail to Extend Tariff-free Deal

(Bloomberg) -- A critical provision permitting the UK to export products featuring European Union components to Canada without facing tariffs is set to expire on Monday. The dissolution of this provision occurs as the UK and Canada couldn't conclude negotiations to extend this trade benefit.

UK government representatives attempt to minimize the impact on key industries such as automobile manufacturing in Britain. However, opposition voices label the situation as a blunder for the country's trade strategies post-Brexit. Not securing a deal with a close ally casts a shadow on the UK's capacity to strike independent trade agreements.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other Brexit proponents had championed the potential for the UK to forge new trade partnerships outside the EU as a leading advantage of Brexit. To date, though, the UK's accomplishments are limited to trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand. These pacts have faced scrutiny and been met with skepticism by both Members of Parliament and farming groups.

The breakdown in negotiations pertaining to the rules of origin with Canada is particularly revealing, demonstrating the challenges the UK faces in pursuing tariff-free trade with non-EU markets. The failed talks between UK Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch and her Canadian counterpart, Mary Ng, at the World Trade Organization conference in Abu Dhabi underscore the complexity of the situation.

This stalemate occurs amidst political unrest within the Conservative Party ahead of a general election slated for later this year. Current opinion polls showing the party trailing the opposition Labour Party contribute to the rising dissent against PM Sunak.

Although the EU still stands as the UK’s most significant trading partner, the Labour Party pledges to strengthen this relationship to boost the economy should they secure victory in the upcoming general election. Nonetheless, UK negotiators are learning that their historical bond with the EU could potentially distance other trade partners.

David Henig, Director at the European Centre for International Political Economy, points out the "embarrassment" for the UK in failing to reach an agreement with Canada. He references the naive approach of government trade teams at the time Brexit was being debated and finalized.

The looming expiration of rules of origin provisions comes after discussions regarding a comprehensive and improved Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and Canada were put on hold by Badenoch this year. At the heart of the Conservative Party's internal conflicts, Badenoch is observed as a potential challenger to Sunak's leadership position, even while distancing herself from political maneuvering, her social media interactions have been perceived as undermining to the Prime Minister.

An individual acquainted with Badenoch's perspective argues that possessing an independent trade policy outside the EU means hard decisions need to be made, and that the Trade Secretary is prepared to take a firm stand. Such an approach is anticipated to resonate with Brexit-supporting members of the Conservative Party who value sovereignty and oppose concessions within trade agreements.

Insiders report an increasing hesitancy amongst UK officials regarding the broader trade deal discussions, as they were more intent on securing an extension for the rules of origin—a legacy issue from the UK’s EU membership days.

However, from the perspective of the Canadian negotiating team, the UK’s proposals lacked reciprocal benefits. Canada, while maintaining a strong relationship with the UK, stood firm in wanting a definitive time frame on these provisions to push the UK to prioritize finalizing the broader trade deal, indicating that relationships alone do not imply unilateral concessions.

The rules of origin are essential for different sectors, but they play a pivotal role in the context of UK-Canada trade, especially significant for the British car industry. Canada represents the eighth-largest export destination for UK automobile firms, with last year's exports nearing £700 million ($883 million).

Without the provisions, exporters who previously benefited from tariff-free trading will now confront a 6.1% charge, equivalent to roughly £3,000 per vehicle, a significant financial blow outlined by Mike Hawes, CEO of the UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), in a letter to the Parliament’s Business and Trade Select Committee.

Understanding the intricacies of the negotiation breakdown, Canada’s emphasis on the UK softening its food safety standards played a part. With Canada’s agriculture and food processing sectors largely geared towards the US market, practices like chemical carcass-washing and hormone injections into cattle and pigs are routine—practices banned within the EU and the UK due to past EU membership.

Anticipating the UK’s urgent need to retain the rules of origin might lead to some leeway on carcass-washing and hormone-treated meat. Nevertheless, British negotiators have expressed their unwillingness to compromise on these key regulatory standards.

The Department for Business and Trade expressed regret over the non-renewal of these rules and the increased trading costs for businesses on both sides of the Atlantic. The UK remains open to working with Canada to formulate a mutually beneficial solution but is resolute in upholding current standards without regression.

For a comprehensive understanding of the UK's trading positions and rules of origin provisions, visit the Office for National Statistics.

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