Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says a trade agreement with Britain should be secured by the end of the year — though there’s a chance Britain might not have the “bandwidth” to move forward with talks.
“I think we’re ready to have it done before January 1. One of the challenges is bandwidth,” he told an online conference hosted by the Financial Times on Wednesday, and reported by Reuters.
“The U.K. hasn’t had to negotiate trade deals in the past few decades so there is an issue of not really having the bandwidth within government to move forward on this,” he added.
“Canada is 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 is really up to the U.K. government.”
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The U.K. officially left the European Union on Jan. 1, 2020, after more than three years of political and legal wrangling following a 2016 referendum on the question of whether to leave the trade bloc.
While the divorce was official, it also kicked off an 11-month in-between period where existing rules for things like trade rules and regulations remained in effect as officials worked to nail down the final terms of major new deals to replace the existing regulations.
That transition period expires on Dec. 31.
Canadian and U.K. officials have been working to suss out a bilateral trade deal since 2017, with the goal being to reduce any disruptions to business activities and economic ties as much as possible.
The deal is expected to largely mirror the Comprehensive Economic Trade Agreement, or CETA, which is the free trade deal Canada has in place with the European Union.
That deal was one of several major trade agreements that have formed a significant part of Trudeau’s economic and foreign policy agenda over the last five years, with the others being the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) with Asia-Pacific countries.
The other big one, of course, was NAFTA.
While U.S. President Donald Trump had initially vowed to rip up the North American free trade deal, his administration agreed to renegotiate the deal instead with Canada and Mexico over the course of a tumultuous two years, during which Trump tried to use steel and aluminum tariffs as leverage.
Trudeau told the online conference on Wednesday that Canada was still able to get the work done, “even with an American president who was — is — a little bit unpredictable and protectionistic.”
He said he looks forward to tackling economic issues with president-elect Joe Biden, but that the first priority will be on getting the coronavirus pandemic under control.
“I look forward to being able to talk with the new president about climate change, about some of our priorities but my job is to work with whomever Americans elect,” he said.
“We’ve been able to do it for the past four years, we will continue to do it for the coming years.”
— With files from Reuters