Dr Liam Fox

International trade minister Dr Liam Fox

Government announces plans to boost Commonwealth trade

The prime minister and the international trade secretary have set out new measures to improve trade between the Commonwealth countries, as well as announcing a range of commercial deals worth more than £1.5bn.

Speaking at the Commonwealth Business Forum yesterday (16 Apr), Dr Fox set out the UK’s ambition to become the foremost global champion of free trade across the world, driving economic growth and prosperity in the process.

The focus of Monday’s CHOGM activity was centered on trade and prosperity, and the Prime Minister announced several initiatives to make it easier for Commonwealth businesses to forge trading ties with their overseas counterparts.

One of the key initiatives will see the first Commonwealth Standards Network launched, bringing together a group of national experts to provide a range of assistance designed to boost standards in developing countries.

The secretary of state also showcased more than 40 commercial deals, worth more than £1.5bn, that have been signed between the UK and Commonwealth partners in the run up to CHOGM.

At the event, he met with representatives from Wadhawan Global Capital whose desire to grow their presence in the UK’s financial service and fintech sectors will see £300m worth of investment pumped into the UK’s economy over the next three years.

Dr Fox also announced progress with transiting Economic Partnership Agreements (EPAs) covering 30 developing countries, including 24 Commonwealth members. The EPAs will seek to replicate existing arrangements, ensuring continuity in trading practices as the UK leaves the European Union.

The Commonwealth is a key trading partner for the UK with total trade in goods and services increasing by 2.1% £94.4bn in 2016. Canada is the largest trading partner in the group accounting for 16.4% of total trade, followed by India (16.3%) and Australia (13.9%).

International trade secretary, Dr Liam Fox, said: “This summit offers a fantastic opportunity to promote the important value of free and fair trade within the Commonwealth.

“Our shared bonds of history, culture language and laws have the potential to increase trade drastically over the coming years, whilst also reducing the cost of doing business between member countries by up to 19%.

“This government will continue to champion global trade, which has driven prosperity at home and abroad. As we leave the EU the UK is ready 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.”

Dr Fox also announced the publication of a new Joint Trade Review Guide, which will act as a blueprint encouraging trade between member states, following the success of the UK-India Joint Trade Review which was completed earlier this year.

The UK’s credit agency, UK Export Finance have also doubled their support for Commonwealth markets, supporting the likes of the Cleveland Bridge project in Sri Lanka, by offering a US$128m loan to finance the construction of 537 steel bridges to improve infrastructure in rural areas. The agency had the total capacity of more than £20bn to support new business.

DIT will also announce support for the Commonwealth Small States (CSS) Office in Geneva to build its human rights and trade capacity with a £1.3m investment. This will boost CSS participation in the international human rights community as well as those that are unable to independently negotiate trade agreements at the WTO.

With over 2.4 billion people, the Commonwealth is home to one third or the world’s population, 60% of which are under the age of 30. It contains some of the world’s fastest growing economies and accounts for one-fifth of global trade. The Commonwealth’s largest members – India, South Africa, Canada, Australia and the UK - make up a quarter of the G20.