OTTAWA — The British government is concerned and disappointed that Canada’s Parliament won’t be able to formally ratify the countries’ new trade agreement ahead of a Jan. 1 deadline.
British trade officials said Thursday they are concerned the delay will inflict “damage and destruction” on businesses, and they blame the situation on Canadian politicians who they say can’t set aside their partisan differences.
The British system has the “bandwidth” to get the deal formally approved on time, the officials said on the condition of anonymity because they did not have authorization to speak publicly on the matter.
That was an apparent dig at Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who used the same word last month to describe the challenge Britain’s trade department faced in negotiating trade agreements simultaneously with the European Union, Australia, Japan, New Zealand and the United States.
Canada-Britain trade has been covered by a deal between Canada and the European Union. When Britain completes its “Brexit” at the end of 2020, that agreement will no longer apply.
The new provisional Canada-Britain trade deal was announced with fanfare on Nov. 21 by Trudeau and his counterpart Boris Johnson, and was needed to avoid a no-deal scenario that will trigger fresh tariffs, as high as 10 per cent, on a range of Canadian exports on Jan. 1.
In a comparatively low-key ceremony behind closed doors Wednesday, David Reed, Britain’s deputy high commissioner, and John Hannaford, Canada’s deputy minister of trade, signed the new trade agreement.
Later that day, the Liberal government introduced legislation in the House of Commons to formalize the new pact, two days before its Friday adjournment for a Christmas holiday recess. Parliament isn’t scheduled to sit again until late January.
British officials came forward with their concerns on Thursday, saying they had been committed to working with Canada on a “seamless transition” that appeared to be fraying “at the 11th hour and reportedly because of a lack of cross-party support” that meant Canada would not be able to honour its commitment.
In testimony before the House of Commons trade committee 10 days ago, Trade Minister Mary Ng revealed that the two countries had yet to hammer out a final text of the agreement.
She also could not commit to having the legislation passed into law before the Commons was scheduled to adjourn this week.
Ng said both countries were working on “mitigation measures” to provide stability to businesses and prevent new tariffs. But she offered no specifics despite being repeatedly pressed by opposition MPs.
The British officials said they were trying to put in place “emergency arrangements” in conjunction with British businesses to give them support to cover as much of the deal as possible.
NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh said he was not aware of any discussions among parties to get the trade deal ratified by Friday. He also indicated he wasn’t in any hurry to see that happen because past trade agreements have benefited large multinational companies and not workers.
“I don’t want us to rush into an agreement that’s not going to protect workers. It has to be an agreement that gives our workers in Canada a level playing field to compete with workers around the world.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 10, 2020.
Mike Blanchfield, The Canadian Press