UK set to reject Canada’s hormone beef demands in early trade talks setback

Britain is ready to reject Canadian hormone-treated beef in an early setback for trade talks due to formally start in April.

Government sources said ending a ban on the use of hormones in beef production is highly unlikely after Canada’s trade minister signaled that Ottawa will push for the UK to ditch its tougher standards on the controversial practice.

There is “very little room to move” on food standards, said one Whitehall source, adding that it would be extremely politically difficult to climb down on the issue. Trade officials confirmed that the food standards will be a “red line” in the talks.

Agricultural products are expected to be a key dividing line in bilateral talks with Canada beginning in April, with any lowering in standards set to spark outrage from UK farmers. US and Canadian farmers treat their cattle with growth promoting hormones to speed up weight gain but the practice is banned in the UK amid concerns they are carcinogenic.

Canadian trade minister Mary Ng recently told The Daily Telegraph: “These are very much issues that we will address, as they should be addressed, [at] that negotiating table.”

She insisted that its agricultural industry is safe and “ultimately based on science”, adding “we stand behind our product”.

A government memo leaked to Politico revealed that Ottawa “asked some probing questions” about the issue. The ban could also become a hurdle in the UK’s efforts to join the huge 11-strong trade bloc known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

Farmers will be watching Canadian trade talks closely after fearing they will be hurt by a wave of cheap imports following the generous deal agreed with Australia last year.

Sam Lowe, trade expert at Flint Global, said Canada will likely use the beef hormone issue as “leverage” to get concessions in other areas in UK talks, such as greater tariff reductions.

He said: “Canada doesn’t really think it can pressure the UK into changing its sanitary and phytosanitary regime if the US hasn’t been able to do so.

“But because this is an area in which the UK is arguably non-compliant with both its WTO commitments, but also the CPTPP rulebook, it would be odd if Canada didn’t try to use this to get something in return.”

Mr Lowe added that Canada will also not want to “liberalize their own dairy market” in a trade deal with the UK.

A DIT spokesman said: “Maintaining our high food safety and animal welfare standards is a red line in all our trade negotiations, and all food and drink products coming into the UK must comply with our import requirements.

“We want to negotiate an ambitious and comprehensive new agreement with Canada that will strengthen our close and historic bilateral trade relationship, worth over £23bn in 2019.”

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