BRITAIN SEEKS NEW DEALS WITH 53-MEMBER GROUP AT CHOGM
PRIME MINISTER Theresa May on Monday (16) extolled the benefits of free trade among Commonwealth countries, as Britain looks to finalise divorce terms with its current biggest trading partner, the European Union.
May is looking to win the support of the Commonwealth, a network of mostly former British colonies, for future trade deals at a meeting of its leaders in London, and bolster her argument that the future is bright after Brexit.
The Commonwealth, headed by the Queen, is not a formal trading bloc with a free-trade agreement. In 2015, it accounted for only nine percent of British exports while by contrast the EU, which Britain voted to leave in 2016, accounted for around 44 per cent.
Speaking at the opening of a Commonwealth business forum, May urged the use of common standards across the network of 53 countries, warning that global growth was fragile and that protectionism posed a clear threat to the world economy.
“With its unique scope and global voice, such a Commonwealth can set a powerful example to the world, one that demonstrates and underlines the importance of protecting free trade and the rules-based international order,” she said. “Freer and easier trade means stronger economies, more jobs, more choice and lower prices.”
The week-long Commonwealth meeting is split across landmark locations in London this week.
Britain’s appeal to the grouping comes as Brexit negotiators prepare to begin work on a future trade agreement with the EU, which the government hopes will allow frictionless trade with the bloc to continue. The EU has said Britain cannot enjoy the benefits of its single market after leaving.
May’s ministers have spent much of their time since the 2016 exit vote touring the globe, touting Britain’s ability to negotiate its own trade deals with countries including Commonwealth states such as India, Australia and New Zealand, as one of the main benefits of life outside the EU.
“As the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, we have the opportunity to reinvigorate our Commonwealth partnerships and usher in a new era harnessing the movement of expertise, talent goods and capital between our nations in a way that we have not done for a generation or more,” said trade minister Liam Fox.
London is going for the hard sell, hosting a reception aimed at showcasing British exports, from food and drink to the English Premier League.
Intra-Commonwealth trade is expected to increase by at least 17 per cent to around $700 billion (£490bn) by 2020, according to the 2018 Commonwealth Trade Review. May announced new programmes to free up trade, improve the skills of young people and boost women’s participation in business, including an offer of £7 million in Commonwealth-wide support to boost businesses owned by women in countries where being female is a professional barrier.
She also announced funding for a new Commonwealth Standards Network to establish a common language for goods and services to help boost trade.
Given its diverse membership, if agreements can be struck within the Commonwealth, they can likely achieve wider support.
At the last summit in Malta in November 2015, leaders struck a deal on climate change that helped pave the way for the Paris agreement days afterwards.
This time, the group is hoping to agree an ocean governance charter, a connectivity agenda for trade and investment, and a declaration on tackling cyber crime. (Agencies)