North America: Market access and barriers to trade

Market access, market presence, tariffs

The UK’s market access for animal products has improved, with new export health certificates allowing beef and lamb into the USA. This means there are now export health certificates in place to enable exports of most primary red meat and dairy products to the USA and Canada. Access into Mexico is more limited, although there is now a certificate for pork.

Table 1 summarises the current position.  

Table 1. GB export health certificates, as at 10 February 2023

  USA Canada Mexico
Beef Y Y N
Lamb Y Y N
Pork Y Y Y
Offal Y Y N
Cheese Y Y N
Butter Y Y N

Source: UK Government,

Beef, sheep and pork

For red meat products, default WTO tariffs are set at different levels by country and by protein (see next paragraph). All countries set their highest tariff levels for beef products, which are currently prohibitive to UK exports. Tariff protection is much lower for sheep meat, where domestic production is lower.

To summarise the current position:

  • Beef – USA 17.8% + 4.4 cents/kg, Canada 26.5%, Mexico 20% fresh/25% frozen
  • Sheep – USA 0.7 cents/kg, Canada only on frozen 2% carcases/1% cuts, Mexico 10%
  • Pork – USA 1.4 cents/kg on some cuts, Canada none, Mexico 20%

It is important to note that exporters can trade some product below the default level. For instance, into the US market some tariff-free quotas are available, but none are ring-fenced for UK supplies. While the UK does not have a preferential trade deal in place with the USA, there are trade agreements with Canada and Mexico.

These are part of the basic EU ‘rollover’ continuity agreement, which provides limited preferential access. In the case of beef, for example, while the default tariffs into Canada are 26.5% the UK‒Canada agreement gives tariff-free access for 2,708t of fresh beef and 1,161t of frozen.

At the time of writing the UK is in free-trade agreement negotiations with both Canada and Mexico which may result in improved access.


For dairy products WTO tariff arrangements are even more complex. Levels are highest in Canada but are also high into the USA and Mexico. At current levels any UK exports outside of a preferential deal or quota would be prohibitive.

  • Butter – USA $1.541/kg to 12.3 cents/kg, Canada 298.5% (but not less than $4.00/kg), Mexico 15%
  • Cheese – USA 11.7% on average + $1.06 to £2.27/kg depending on type, Canada 245.5% (and not less than $4.34/kg), Mexico 45% on average

Canada operates an unusual quota management system for the limited volume of preferential tariff dairy products. The dairy processors there hold and administer quota access, and processors of domestic product could be seen as having a vested interest in allowing imported product into the market.