July 18, 2016 / 3:27 PM / 3 years ago

Canada, pressed on UK trade talks report, says focus is EU deal

Former British Defence Secretary and Conservative leadership candidate, Liam Fox, speaks at a news conference in central London, Britain July 4, 2016. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo

OTTAWA (Reuters) - The Canadian government, responding to a report that Britain had opened talks on a bilateral trade deal, said on Monday it was focused on completing its long-negotiated free trade agreement with the European Union.

A vote last month to leave the EU means Britain will have to renegotiate a raft of commercial ties. British International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the Sunday Times he had opened “very fruitful” trade talks during a meeting with Canadian Trade Minister Chrystia Freeland in London on Friday.

But in a sign of the challenges Britain may face in reaching such deals, Freeland’s office said her focus was the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the EU, which took years to negotiate and could come into force early next year.

Asked about Fox’s comments in the interview, Freeland spokesman Alex Lawrence said she had had “a very positive conversation” with the secretary on Friday.

“The Minister shared details about the trade negotiating team in her department, and the two committed to work together to ratify CETA as quickly as possible,” he said in a statement.

Prior to last month’s vote, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told Reuters that Canada did not want Britain to leave the European Union and that there would be “nothing easy or automatic” about negotiating new trade deals between the two countries.

Some campaigners for Britain’s exit from the EU had argued the country’s historic ties with former colonies like Canada, Australia and New Zealand could help it forge new trade deals.

The European Commission negotiates trade deals on behalf of its member states, meaning Britain has not had to forge its own deals since it joined the bloc in 1973.

Fox told the Sunday Times Britain is “scoping” about a dozen free trade deals outside the EU.

Editing by Jeffrey Hodgson

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