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With youthful populations and growing economies, the Commonwealth is the future

3 min read

International trade deals are a complex and painstaking process, and Britain cannot afford to procrastinate, argues Jake Berry MP.

In her speech at Davos last month, the Prime Minister was very clear that ‘Britain is open for business’. The future is about a global outwardly facing Britain which will be a beacon for free trade. This is not just about ensuring that the Europe Union remains a strong and economically robust trading partner and ally but also about Britain trading with the rest of the world as an independent sovereign state.    

Despite this bold vision for “Global Britain”, much of the discussion about post-Brexit trade has focused on the nature of our future relationship with the EU.   While this is understandable and important, given both geography and the timelines for Brexit, it must not limit our thinking. After all, the world is bigger than Europe.

Next month the first ever Commonwealth Heads of Trade meeting will take place in London. This meeting, organised by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, aims to address the lack of inter-governmental cooperation in this area. That is why this week’s debate in Parliament about promoting trade with the Commonwealth is of vital importance.  It is time we re-engage with the Commonwealth; not as ‘the Empire Strikes Back’ but rather in recognition of our membership in an organization of independent and equal states.  

The fifty-two countries of the Commonwealth span the globe and represent a little over a third of the world’s population. The Commonwealth includes five G20 countries and has a combined GDP of over $10 trillion. With a youthful population and growing economies the Commonwealth is the future and not some throwback to our past. The Commonwealth is united by a shared history, tradition and values. These commonalities have enabled Commonwealth countries to work together on matters of trade, justice and public engagement.   

Free trade amongst Commonwealth countries is already a reality. Australia has free trade agreements with New Zealand, it is also in the process of negotiating an FTA with India and, together with New Zealand, is party to an agreement with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) whose membership includes three Commonwealth states.  While the countries involved may change somewhat, the common feature between these trade deals is the length of time- years, not months-these agreements took to negotiate.  

Despite the economic benefits they confer, international trade deals are complex and often painstaking processes. Britain cannot afford to procrastinate and we must approach the trade meeting in March with this in mind. 

The Comprehensive Economic and Free Trade Agreement between the EU and Canada is expected to increase UK exports to Canada by 29% and Canadian exports to the UK by 15% with a long term benefit to the UK economy of £1.3 billion per year. Promoting trade with the Commonwealth would not only open up new markets for British goods but would provide Britons with greater access to exports from abroad. 

The Canadian FTA should sound a cautionary note to us all. We can all recall late last year when the EU CETA agreement was held hostage by the regional parliament in Wallonia, if only for the reason that it was the first time most of us had ever heard of Wallonia. 

A newly independent Global Britain, will be free to agree trade deals that benefit our economic plan. It is time to recognise the world is larger than one continent and we must renew our political and economic ties with the Commonwealth.

Jake Berry is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Rossendale and Darwen

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