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Cheese council calls on Canadian government to act to prevent loss of access to British cheese

The group wants feds to extend temporary agreement for import of U.K. cheese, which is set to expire at the end of the year
Afrim Pristine, Cheese Boutique
Afrim Pristine, Cheese Boutique

Stiltons, Red Leicesters, Wensleydales and other British cheeses that have long been a fixture in Canadian grocers’ cheese counters could soon be harder to come by, warns the International Cheese Council of Canada (ICCC).

With The Trade Continuity Agreement (TCA) Cheese Letters – an interim arrangement that currently allows for the import of British cheese to Canada – set to expire at the end of the year, the Council says time is running out to resolve the situation.

“We’re calling on the Canadian government to extend the validity of the TCA Cheese Letters to support and protect Canadian businesses,” said Lisa MacNeil, president of Tree of Life Canada, a company that distributes several British cheeses and that is a member of the ICCC, at a media event at Toronto’s Cheese Boutique last week. “Extend the Cheese Letters while you figure out a permanent agreement [with the United Kingdom] and let us continue to do business as we have for the past three years.” [It was Brexit – the U.K.'s withdrawal from the European Union in 2020 – that prompted the need for new agreements]

The ICCC is comprised of small- and medium-sized importers and distributors and its members import the bulk of British cheeses available at Canadian stores and restaurants. The value of British cheese imports to Canada is more than $29 million and the Council says loss of access to these products would cause significant disruption to the cheese importing industry and cause financial harm to stores across the country.

For some retailers, the loss of British cheese from their assortment will also result in disappointed customers.

“At Cheese Boutique we’ve always had a culture to sell English cheese; we have a lot of customers that want something unique, and these cheeses are quite different and allow my store to have a proper cheese selection with good diversity, different textures and flavour profiles,” said Afrim Pristine, owner of the 53-year-old store and a Maître Fromager (cheese master).

For his retail and distribution business, Pristine said he buys about 350 kilos of English cheese each week. “Times that by 52 [weeks] and that’s 18,000 kilos – so that’s 18,000 kilos of disappointment, that’s the way I look at it,” he said. “It’s very disruptive. In my cheese counter I have 30 or so English cheeses that I will need to replace with something else. I don’t want to replace them with something else – I like these, we have a history of selling them." 

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