Liam Fox: There is huge potential to spread prosperity and increase trade within the Commonwealth
Working together we can break down barriers to help all Commonwealth countries achieve their development ambitions, reduce dependence on aid – and create the trading partnerships of the future, writes Liam Fox
One of the great constants of the post-war era has been the growth in global trade. This development has lifted entire nations out of poverty, while providing jobs, security and better health for billions of people around the world. In 1975, 60% of the population of Asia lived in absolute poverty, today that figure is 20%.
Despite this record, we live in an age where the merits of a global, rules-based trading system are being undermined and called into question, even by those countries that have benefited the most.
The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London is an opportunity to remind ourselves about the importance of global trade, and the huge rewards on offer for improving trade within the Commonwealth, which represents a third of the world’s population.
Together we can break down barriers to trade in order to help all Commonwealth countries achieve their development ambitions, reduce dependence on aid and create trading partners of the future.
Forty-four of our 52 Commonwealth partners benefit from development-friendly, preferential access to the UK market. One priority for the UK is to deliver continuity in these trading arrangements as we leave the EU, maintaining the current level of market access.
This includes our Economic Partnership Agreements that we are party to through our EU membership, as well as duty-free quota-free access for Least Developed Countries.
This stability will provide the platform for building stronger trading arrangements in the future while ensuring every country benefits from the fruits of free trade.
In March we reached an agreement with the EU that will provide continuity for businesses during the Implementation Period, and we are working closely with our partners to ensure that continues after 2020.
Of course, our ambitions go far beyond preserving current trading arrangements. The potential for greater intra-Commonwealth trade is vast, and we will be announcing a number of steps to make that a reality in the coming days.
This will include UK-Government backing for programmes that cut trading costs and introduce common international standards to stimulate trade flows. At the same time, we will also ensure trade can do more to support gender equality, whether through better data for Commonwealth governments, practical support for businesswomen or innovative use of digital technology, which will be supported by a new agreement on e-commerce.
Trade can only support gender equality within the right global environment, so in addition to specific measures, the UK will remain the steadfast champion of free trade at the WTO. Fulfilling that role has never been more important.
As the world’s emerging and developing economies have liberalised trade practices, prosperity has spread, bringing industry, jobs and wealth with it. According to the World Bank, the three decades between 1981 and 2010 witnessed the single greatest decrease in material deprivation in human history. A billion people were taken out of poverty in one generation. No aid programme in the world could achieve this result.
There is huge potential to build on this progress and increase trade within the Commonwealth, and that prospect is already recognised by members. Our shared values, regulatory systems and common language have the potential to increase trade by 20% - reaching almost £500 billion by 2020 – and reduce the cost of doing business between member countries by up to 19%.
As we leave the EU the UK is ready to thrive and adapt to a rapidly changing world. That is our ambition for all Commonwealth members, and it is the message I will share with our friends and allies throughout this week.
Liam Fox is Secretary of State for International Trade and Conservative MP for North Somerset