By David Ljunggren
OTTAWA (Reuters) - Britain has suspended talks on a free trade deal with Canada amid unhappiness on both sides about the lack of access to agricultural markets, Canadian officials said on Thursday.
The talks - which started in March 2022 - are among a number of negotiations Britain has launched around the world in the wake of its decision to leave the European Union, which excluded it from existing EU free trade deals.
"We are disappointed that negotiations with the UK are being paused. Their decision to continue to maintain market access barriers for our agriculture industry and unwillingness to reach a mutual agreement has only stalled negotiations," said a spokeswoman for Canadian Trade Minister Mary Ng.
Ng has contacted British business minister Kemi Badenoch to express Canada's disappointment, the spokeswoman added.
Canadian farmers complain they have been effectively shut out of the British beef market because of regulations banning the use of hormones.
In a statement posted on X, a British government spokesperson said "we reserve the right to pause negotiations with any country if progress is not being made".
Before Britain left the EU trading sphere at the end of 2020, Canada rolled over existing trade arrangements to ensure free trade could continue.
One particular arrangement dealing with cheese access has now expired and a Canadian government official blamed Britain for the lack of an extension deal.
"Unfortunately, Britain did not act as fast as it should have in negotiations, and expects Canada to just give (it) these things," said the official, who requested anonymity because they were not authorised to speak to the media.
Both sides said they were ready to resume talks. According to official British data, total bilateral trade in goods and services was 25.9 billion pounds ($32.9 billion) in the year ending June 30, 2023, when Canada was Britain's 18th largest trading partner.
According to Canadian data, bilateral trade with Britain in 2022 accounted for just 2.7% of the total.
($1 = 0.7875 pounds)
(Reporting by David Ljunggren in Ottawa; writing by Ismail Shakil; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien)