As signs emerge that a transitional trade deal between Canada and the UK is imminent, opposition MPs on the Commons Trade Committee on Friday warned that they may not be able to pass legislation implementation on time because the Liberal government let the talks drag on for too long.
Doug Forsyth, Canada’s chief negotiator for the Canada-U.K. Transitional Trade Agreement, paused before confirming a Bloomberg News report earlier this week which said the besieged government of British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was set to get a significant boost “within days” by securing its post-Brexit preferential trade access to the Canadian market.
“I’m pretty optimistic,” Forsyth told MPs. “I have no doubts that we will reach a final conclusion very soon.”
Asked minutes later about reports of a deal coming as early as this weekend, Forsyth said “the leaks were not coming from the Canadian side, certainly to my knowledge.”
But even though a deal is on the way, opposition MPs have warned that they are out of time on the parliamentary calendar to approve its implementation before the extended recess in the House.
When the bill to enact the revised North American Free Trade Agreement was rushed through Parliament last winter, the government accepted an NDP proposal setting out how future agreements would have more parliamentary oversight.
Rushing into yet another trade bill – similar to how pandemic aid was passed – could violate that understanding in this increasingly tense minority parliament.
This week, Youmy Han, spokesperson for International Trade Minister Mary Ng, confirmed to TBEN News that once the deal is approved by Cabinet, legislation to amend relevant laws and regulations (such as specific tariffs) should be adopted “in accordance with established practice and requirements.”
“We hope that all members will support an agreement that will help safeguard Canada’s trade interests with our British partners and bring stability, predictability and continuity to Canadian businesses and workers,” she said.
‘It will not arrive’
When Forsyth told the committee on Friday he was negotiating based on a Dec.31 deadline, MPs got agitated.
“You missed your deadline,” Tory MP Randy Hoback said. “I cannot submit this to the House of Commons within the time limit set for continuity … unless I do it like I did with the [NAFTA bill.]”
Hoback said the government was effectively saying “Parliament doesn’t matter” because MPs were asked to approve something they didn’t see.
“It won’t happen,” Hoback warned.
“As parliamentarians… we have to do some studies very quickly if we are to conclude anything by December 31,” said NDP trade critic Daniel Blaikie. “I share Mr. Hoback’s skepticism about the possibility of this.”
Opposition Leader Erin O’Toole recently stepped up his criticism of the government for failing to quickly strike a deal with one of its oldest and most important trading partners.
In a fireside chat at a virtual APEC event Thursday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said concluding the talks was a priority, “to ensure there was a transition without shock for Canadian investors, for British investors, ”and added he was optimistic. happen.
‘Very very very near there’
Also on Thursday, British High Commissioner to Canada Susan the Younger of Allegeershecque told TBEN News Network Power and politics she was also optimistic that the two countries were in the final stages of reaching a deal, but could not say much else.
“Watch this space,” she said. “We’re very, very, very close to it. I think it’s going to happen very quickly.”
It must be, if the two countries hope to avoid major disruption to their industries.
After the UK left the European Union last winter, the two sides agreed that until the end of 2020 Canada would continue to trade with the British under the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement Canada -EU (CETA).
As the UK did not have jurisdiction over its own trade until the end of Brexit, the two sides agreed to negotiate a transitional deal that would replicate CETA as much as possible in the short term.
The transitional agreement will not have a fixed term or sunset clause, but the two sides have committed to a more conventional bilateral trade negotiation next year to reach a permanent and comprehensive agreement.
Forsyth told MPs negotiators were limited in what they could accomplish under the transition deal, but looked forward to concluding bilateral talks as soon as possible in areas they could “go to.” further”.
“I don’t think we want to extend this beyond a few years,” he told the committee.
Difficult to solve farm problems
Forsyth listed measures that had to be renegotiated for a UK-only deal, including health regulations, procurement rules, investment regulations, market access levels for goods sensitive and the rules of origin which define which products are qualified as national products and therefore eligible for preferential treatment. prices.
During committee testimony earlier this month, Steve Verheul, assistant deputy minister for trade negotiations, told MPs that negotiators face “challenges” in resolving issues related to the temporary entry of businessmen for commercial purposes – this has been a problem between the UK and other countries. trading partners too, as it forges its own immigration policy after Brexit.
Verheul said the “small handful” of issues negotiators were stuck on in late stages also included converting CETA market access commitments for 28 countries into reasonable amounts for the UK alone. For example, the CETA quota for sensitive agricultural products will remain intact for the remaining 27 states, so the UK and Canada must negotiate their own duty-free quantities in each direction.
Forsyth told MPs he does not have a negotiating mandate to give the UK an additional share of the Canadian cheese market, for example, even if the UK wants it.
In the other direction, Canadian grain and livestock producers are always aggressive in negotiating new markets. The UK, now out of EU protection, is a target.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative government, which relies on the support of rural constituencies, may have resisted more duty-free access for products like Canadian beef and pork.