Canadian meat industry urges MPs to reject U.K. membership in trade deal

By Amanda Stephenson, The Canadian Press

Canadian beef and pork farmers frustrated by an ongoing dispute with Britain over meat exports are calling on members of Parliament to vote against the U.K.’s membership in a major Asia-Pacific trade group.

“It’s unacceptable,” said Canadian Cattle Association president Nathan Phinney in an interview Monday, two days after an announcement that the U.K. has been granted accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).

“We’re not standing behind it, and we will oppose it with everything we have.”

The CPTPP, first established in 2018, is a trading bloc made up of Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam.

The agreement encompasses more than 500 million people and 15 per cent of the world’s economy. According to the federal government, Canadian exports to new markets through the CPTPP have increased by more than 35 per cent since 2018, reaching more than $24 billion in 2022.

The U.K. — which is Canada’s third-largest single-country trading partner — concluded negotiations in March to enter the CPTPP, making it the newest member of the agreement and the first new country to join since the trading bloc was first established.

But the Canadian Cattle Association and the Canadian Pork Council, as well as Canadian meat processors and exporters, say the U.K. does not deserve a place in a bloc dedicated to open trade.

The meat industry has been angry for years over what they say is the British government’s refusal to recognize Canada’s food safety and animal health systems — a refusal that has had the effect of severely limiting Canadian beef and pork exports to the U.K. in recent years.

One major sticking point is that the U.K. refuses to accept beef treated with growth hormones, a common agricultural practice in Canada.

The U.K. also rejects Canada’s use of antimicrobial livestock carcass washes in slaughterhouses.

While these are regulatory roadblocks, not tariffs, Canadian industry representatives say they have virtually the same effect.

They note that under the post-Brexit agreement that replicates the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union, the U.K. in the past two years has exported more than 7,000 tonnes of beef valued at close to $40 million to Canada.

In contrast, Canada exported just 657 tonnes of beef valued at $7.6 million to the U.K. in 2021 and zero beef in 2022.

The situation for pork is also lopsided, with the U.K. having shipped 1,300 tonnes of pork valued at $10 million to Canada last year, and Canada shipping zero pork to the U.K.

“I think at this juncture there’s just a real frustration,” said Chris White, president and CEO of the Canadian Meat Council, which represents the country’s meat processing plants.

“That inequity is something we’re quite concerned about.”

While other markets in the CPTPP are far more valuable than the British market to Canadian beef and pork producers (for example, Canada exported $142 million in beef alone to Japan between January and May of this year), White said the industry is concerned a precedent is being set.

“Whatever the standards or the thresholds are for the U.K. to join the CPTPP, then that is the bar that is set for other countries to join the CPTPP,” White explained.

“If the U.K. gets in and they say, ‘We don’t recognize Canada’s food safety system,’ then how do you make the next country that wants to come in recognize it?”

International Trade Minister Mary Ng congratulated the U.K. Saturday on its accession to the CPTPP, saying that the benefits of the trading bloc will grow with the U.K. as a member.

Each CPTPP member must still ratify Britain’s membership through a vote in its national legislature.

Canada and Britain are also currently separately negotiating a bilateral trade deal, and “continue to push for Canadian agricultural interests, including commercially meaningful access for pork and beef,” said Ng’s press secretary Shanti Cosentino in an email.

However, British High Commissioner to Canada Susannah Goshko said in an interview earlier this spring that the U.K. will not back down on issues such as the use of growth hormones.

She went so far as to suggest that Canadian ranchers should consider changing their farming practices if they want access for their beef to the U.K. market.

That’s a proposal Phinney, of the Canadian Cattle Association, strongly rejects.

“We have the science behind us. We have a world-class food safety system and a world-class product,” he said.

“A lot of this has been politicized in the U.K., and you know, to be quite blunt, it’d be nice to see our Canadian government stand up for its producers the way the U.K. is standing up for theirs.”

Phinney added that if the federal government doesn’t reject the U.K.’s membership in the trading bloc through a vote in Parliament, it should be prepared to financially compensate farmers and processors for the losses that will result.

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