Trudeau: UK's lack of negotiating practice could delay Canada trade deal

Britain may lack ‘bandwidth to move forward’ as Brexit transition nears end, say PM

Canada’s Justin Trudeau
Canada’s Justin Trudeau: ‘The UK hasn’t had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades.’ Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock
Canada’s Justin Trudeau: ‘The UK hasn’t had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades.’ Photograph: Canadian Press/Rex/Shutterstock
in Toronto

Last modified on Thu 12 Nov 2020 13.43 EST

Canada could easily negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal with the UK, Justin Trudeau has said, but he warned that talks could be delayed because British negotiators are so out of practice.

Speaking at an online event hosted by the Financial Times, the Canadian prime minister said he remained upbeat about the prospect of a trade deal between the two countries before the end of the year.

“We know how to negotiate trade deals,” said Trudeau, alluding to a string of recent pacts sealed by Canada. “The UK hasn’t had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades.”

Any barrier to an agreement was likely to come from the UK as its negotiators juggled talks with multiple nations, Trudeau warned. “There is an issue of not really having the bandwidth within the [UK] government to move forward on this,” he said.

As the Brexit transition comes to an end, Boris Johnson’s government has the difficult task of lining up deals with key non-EU nations, including Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

With the 31 December deadline rapidly approaching and a number of deals still outstanding, the shadow trade secretary, Emily Thornberry, recently condemned the Conservative government’s inability to show completed trade pacts as an “abysmal and shambolic state of affairs”.

Trudeau and the UK prime minister spoke earlier this week, discussing how to strengthen trade and economic co-operation between the two allies.

Trade with Canada is worth nearly £17.4bn (C$30bn), according to government figures. About 700 UK-based firms have a presence in Canada, and 1,100 businesses in the UK are owned or controlled by Canadians.

Trudeau’s government has signed a number of large trade pacts in recent years. In addition to joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership with 10 other Pacific nations, Canada recently completed a bruising and unpredictable set of free trade negotiations with the United States.

Currently, economic relations between Canada and the UK are governed by the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (Ceta), a broad free-trade deal recently negotiated between Canada and the European Union that eliminated a number of pre-existing tariffs. Despite the challenges, Trudeau said he remained “very optimistic” that key provisions of Ceta could form the basis of the new agreement.

“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,” said Trudeau. “I just hope they can come around to it.”