'Too much British cheese'? U.K. PM Boris Johnson on trade, climate co-operation

·3 min read
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Friday. Canada and the United Kingdom completed a transitional trade agreement in November, after Britain withdrew from the European Union. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC - image credit)
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks with CBC chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton on Friday. Canada and the United Kingdom completed a transitional trade agreement in November, after Britain withdrew from the European Union. (Mathieu Theriault/CBC - image credit)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is hopeful that Canada and the U.K. can conclude a permanent deal on how much British cheese can enter Canada, just one part of a comprehensive free-trade deal set to be negotiated this fall.

Reluctance to "allow too much British cheese to tempt the palates of Canadians" was one sticking point during negotiations over a transitional deal last year, Johnson told CBC News chief political correspondent Rosemary Barton in an exclusive Canadian interview airing Sunday on Rosemary Barton Live.

"What's really needed now is more affordable, high-quality British cheese in Canada, and I hope that we can do a deal to allow that," Johnson said.

Canada and the United Kingdom completed a transitional trade agreement in November, necessitated by Britain's withdrawal from the European Union.

But the agreement did not include a lasting deal on market access for British cheese producers, instead temporarily maintaining the system established under Canada's free-trade agreement with the European Union.

Johnson speaks with the CBC's Barton on Friday from 10 Downing Street in London, his official residence.
Johnson speaks with the CBC's Barton on Friday from 10 Downing Street in London, his official residence.(Adrian Di Virgilio/CBC)

Access to Canada's supply-managed dairy market has been a controversial issue in a slew of trade agreements concluded by the federal government in recent years, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement between Canada and the European Union.

"We were very concerned that dairy might be implicated in that, but we are pleased to see that the government has excluded dairy imports in that particular trade agreement. Now we know that it's an interim agreement that is renewed in three years. That gives them time to negotiate," Dairy Farmers of Canada vice-president David Wiens said after the Canada-U.K. deal was signed in November 2020.

Around the same time, an adviser for the National Farmers' Union in Britain said that "a U.K. priority in these negotiations should be to secure greater access for our cheese producers."

Johnson pointed to his procurement of Canadian-made "big burly bicycles" — referring to Montreal-based Bixi bikes — when he was mayor of London as proof of his free-trade bona fides.

'We were the beginners of the crime'

The prime minister also discussed the issue of co-operation in the fight against climate change, noting he was pleased with Canada's emissions reductions targets, but "I'm not saying you couldn't go further."

The U.K. has an aggressive emissions reduction target for 2030 of 68 per cent below 1990 levels, compared with Canada's lower target of between 40 and 45 per cent below 2005 levels.

Johnson highlighted a push by his government to secure $100 billion US per year from rich countries to direct toward climate action in developing nations.

"After all, we in the U.K., I'm afraid to say we were the first. We were the beginners of the crime," Johnson said, referring to Britain's early industrialization and related hydrocarbon emissions.

"We owe it to [developing countries] to support them now in accelerating their move to net-zero. It's not fair otherwise, and I think Justin [Trudeau] totally gets that," he said.

Johnson repeatedly said his government and that of Trudeau were in "harmony" on the issue of climate change.

You can watch full episodes of Rosemary Barton Live on CBC Gem, the CBC's streaming service.

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