OTTAWA — Britain's trade minister says his country expects to kick-start talks on a free-trade pact with Canada in the fall and suggests it might differ in scope from what is now in place.
Ranil Jayawardena said first the British government must hold consultations on what should be in an agreement before it can sit down with Canadian negotiators on the terms of a long-term deal.
In March, Canada ratified a temporary trade agreement with the U.K. after it left the European Union at the end of last year.
The terms of the deal, which largely replicated provisions of the agreement Canada has with the EU, came into effect last month.
The deal maintained preferential access to the U.K. market for Canadian exporters and businesses, and eliminated tariffs on 98 per cent of goods exported from this country.
Jayawardena said he believes the existing agreement should give both countries a head start in talks, rather than beginning from square one, to craft a deal unique to each country's economic strengths and help recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.
"COVID has been a tough time for everyone, no one is denying that. We've learned a lot about ourselves, we've learned a lot about our economies, we learned a lot about what is possible," he said during a virtual event hosted by the Canadian Chamber of Commerce.
"The previously thought impossible has become possible, out of necessity, and the necessity of having more e-commerce and digital trade with flows of data. I think these are areas where we can do more together."
His talk came one day after Canada's trade minister, Mary Ng, spoke with one of her U.K. counterparts about the work towards launching free trade talks. Canadian consultations on the proposed deal closed late last month. Broad details of the call were released by Ng's office on Wednesday.
Jayawardena cited "untapped potential" in sectors like aerospace, creative industries and financial and business service, but also identified rules around keeping data within borders, as well as access for agricultural products as potential stumbling blocks in talks.
The interim deal with the U.K. doesn't provide any incremental market access for Canada's supply-managed dairy sector.
The British trade minister pointed to provisions on dairy access in a trade pact Canada has with other Pacific Rim countries as an option for getting over that trade hump.
Britain has formally asked to join the trade union, known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, or CPTPP, for short, of which Canada is a founding member. Countries including Australia who are among the original signatories have previously said they were open to other countries joining the pact.
Jayawardena said in his talk that Britain's interest in joining the pact has been well-received by Canada and the remaining 10 countries in the deal, who will meet in a few weeks to deliberate on the request.
The deal was set up as a counterbalance to China's influence in the region, and pushed by the Obama administration before Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the pact.
Canada's relationship with China remains cold as China is holding Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor almost two-and-a-half years after they were first detained in apparent retaliation for Canada's arrest of Chinese tech scion Meng Wanzhou over an extradition request by the United States.
Jayawardena took aim at China during his talk and that country's trade practices, as well as allegations of intellectual property theft.
He also argued that U.S. President Joe Biden's "Buy America" push may score political points domestically, but won't provide long-term economic benefits through free and fair trade.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 12, 2021.
Jordan Press, The Canadian Press