Canada-type deal was ‘not a magic pill’ for seamless border, says ambassador

Canadian envoy says post-Brexit trade deal would still lead to border checks and delays

A Canada-type free trade deal, touted as a post-Brexit model for the EU and UK, was "not a magic pill" to create a frictionless border, Canada's ambassador to Ireland Kevin Vickers has said.

Mr Vickers told The Irish Times an EU-UK deal similar to the agreement struck between the EU and Canada would be "a huge benefit" to Ireland because agri-food and pharmaceutical products made up a large percent of Irish exports and 98 per cent of tariffs between Canada and the EU were eliminated.

“It would obviously be a benefit for Ireland to have that type of arrangement and it certainly would help expedite things at the Border,” he said.

But even free trade agreements designed to make borders as seamless as possible would still not remove delays and customs checks, said Mr Vickers. He pointed to the length delays at Canada's border with the United States, two countries that benefit from the North American Free Trade Agreement.


“On a good day, you may still find line-ups a mile long or longer,” he said.

Referring to the highway tunnel connecting Detroit, Michigan and Windsor, Ontario - the second busiest crossing between the two countries, he said: "On a given day, you could be there for hours."

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has dismissed a suggestion from British prime minister Theresa May that the Canada-US border could be used as a model for the Irish Border problem.

The EU has said the only option the UK had, if it chose to leave the EU customs union and single market, was a free-trade agreement but that would loosen economic ties and make trade more costly.

The UK has rejected replicating a Canada-style deal with the EU as it says that it does not offer enough access for the British economy. It wants a deeper agreement that includes financial services - an area not covered by the EU-Canada deal because Canada wanted to retain greater control over its banks.

Mr Vickers said the EU and Canada aimed to create a “gold standard for free trade agreements of the future” with their deal, the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement, or Ceta.

That agreement could serve as a template for a future EU-UK deal, he said.

“A lot of nuts have been cracked with Ceta,” he said. “At least there is a roadway, a pathway or a framework that certainly would lead like-minded countries and the EU, if they wished to go down that road. It would assist them greatly.”

He described the negotiations leading to the agreement as “complicated,” having taken the best part of a decade before provisionally coming into force last September.

The agreement allows EU businesses to invest in Canada and bid on public contracts, offers business investors visa-free entry for periods and mutually recognises professional qualifications.

Mr Vickers said the Canadian government took an active interest in ensuring that Brexit led to no hard border. Canada had "a bit of history" with the Northern Irish peace process through Canadian General John De Chastelain who oversaw the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons.

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell

Simon Carswell is News Editor of The Irish Times