Canada’s Justin Trudeau says trade deal with UK may not be done

Canadian PM suggests London lacks ‘bandwidth’ to get agreement finalised by end of year

Andrew Woodcock
Political Editor
Thursday 12 November 2020 22:32
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Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau, has cast doubt over the UK securing a trade deal with his country by the 31 December Brexit deadline, which is necessary to avoid punitive tariffs.

Mr Trudeau said Britain was struggling to conclude an agreement rolling over the terms of the existing EU-Canada deal, and suggested that London does not have “the bandwidth” to get it done on time.

Canada is the largest of 15 EU deals that the international trade secretary, Liz Truss, has yet to roll over, with less than 50 days to go until the UK leaves the EU single market and customs union.

This transition will also mean the UK falling out of all free trade agreements that it enjoyed as a member of the EU, moving onto lowest common denominator World Trade Organisation terms for any that are not rolled over in time.

Trade experts told The Independent that failure to complete the rollovers could disrupt as much as £80bn worth of imports and exports through the imposition of tariffs and quotas.

Canada is the UK’s fifth largest bilateral trade partner, with exports totalling £10.7bn in 2018/19.

Mr Trudeau told the Financial Times that the two countries were “on the edge of having an agreement” but said that “one of the challenges is bandwidth”.

“I know that rolling over and demonstrating free trade deals for the UK government is extremely important,” said the Canadian PM.

“Canada’s a really easy one. We’re there for it. We’d like to do it. So I’m very hopeful that it’s going to get done but that really is up to the UK government because we’re there for it.”

Trudeau said that the Canadians “know how to negotiate trade deals”, having struck FTAs with every other G7 country and signed the Ceta deal with the EU in 2016, which removed most tariffs on trade.

He said he had offered assistance to the UK, which has relied on the EU for its negotiations since 1973.

“The UK hasn’t had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades,” he said. “So there is an issue of not really having the bandwidth within government to move forward on this.”

However, an aide to Ms Truss denied the UK lacked the capacity to do a deal.

“The core elements of the deal are agreed, there’s just a few things to iron out,” the aide told the FT. “A deal is there to be done. Bandwidth isn’t an issue at all.”

The UK is separately seeking a “Canada-style” zero-tariff, zero-quota deal with the EU, but the latest round of negotiations is expected to end without a breakthrough in London today.

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