British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said his top priority is to achieve a “seamless” transition after Brexit, and negotiating a bilateral trade agreement with Canada is a part of that.
He affirmed Britain will leave the European Union by Oct. 31, with or without an exit deal.
“We need to ensure that everything possible is in place to provide continuity of trade after Brexit for the benefit of companies and consumers,” Mr. Raab told reporters in Toronto.
He’ll work with Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland on a bilateral trade deal in the weeks ahead, he added.
However, Mr. Raab declined to elaborate on how a bilateral Canada-Britain deal would be different from the current Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which establishes rules for trade between Canada and the whole EU.
Ms. Freeland’s office said Canada recognizes Britain can’t engage in free-trade talks while it’s still part of the EU. But Ottawa would allow Britain to remain part of CETA, or use rules based on CETA, during its transition period.
Britain is Canada’s largest European trading partner and its fifth largest globally. Two-way merchandise trade between the two countries reached $25.51-billion in 2018.
Mr. Raab and Ms. Freeland talked about the countries’ shared concern on issues such as the plight of Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, two Canadians detained in China, and the crisis in Venezuela.
Ms. Freeland met with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday, where she raised the case of the two Canadians. They’re cut off from family and lawyers and have been charged with espionage.
“I really want to assure them and their families that they truly are never far from our thoughts,” Ms. Freeland said.
The face-to-face meeting was a step forward, she added, although Canada’s relationship with China remains “challenging.”
Ms. Freeland also discussed the tense situation in Venezuela. U.S. President Donald Trump froze all Venezuelan government assets in his country on Monday, a sweeping measure to increase pressure on Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro over human-right abuses.
Ms. Freeland said she’s watching the U.S. move closely and added Canada has its own “very strong” set of sanctions against Mr. Maduro’s regime.
While Mr. Raab said he understands the importance of a bilateral trade agreement with Canada, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson gave a similar message to at least one other British trading partner. Last week, he spoke to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and stressed the importance of ensuring a smooth transition for businesses through Brexit, according to a Downing Street statement.
“Brexit is not just about risk management,” Mr. Raab said. “It’s also about grasping the enormous opportunities of our newfound freedoms.”
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Editor’s note: Aug. 7, 2019: A previous version of this story incorrectly said Chrystia Freeland’s office declined to comment on the nature of a Canada-Britain trade deal.