COMMON GOALS: Theresa May; and (below) Prince William looks at a display of Royal Enfield motorcycles during a ‘Welcome to the UK’ reception on the opening day of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London on Monday (16)


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)