UK eyes trade deals at Com­mon­wealth sum­mit

Viet Nam News - - INSIGHT - Robin Mil­liard

Lead­ers dis­cuss im­proved busi­ness re­la­tions as Britain pre­pares for the post-Brexit era, but ex­perts warn trade out­side of EU is too far be­hind EU neigh­bours

LON­DON, United King­dom — Britain is hop­ing this week’s Com­mon­wealth sum­mit will prise open greater trade with its his­toric net­work as it pre­pares to quit the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket under Brexit.

The UK is pounc­ing on the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s anal­y­sis show­ing the ad­van­tages of trade be­tween Com­mon­wealth coun­tries due to its com­mon lan­guage and le­gal sys­tems.

But some quar­ters are warn­ing that Britain’s trade with Com­mon­wealth na­tions lags so far be­hind that with its Euro­pean Union neigh­bours that a straight re­place­ment is im­pos­si­ble.

The 53 mem­ber states are gath­er­ing for their bi­en­nial Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing (CHOGM), be­ing hosted this year in Lon­don.

Born out of the for­mer Bri­tish em­pire, the vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tion fo­cuses on de­vel­op­ment and democ­racy, but is turn­ing its at­ten­tion to boost­ing trade.

In­tra-Com­mon­wealth trade is ex­pected to in­crease by at least 17 per cent to around US$700 bil­lion by 2020, ac­cord­ing to the 2018 Com­mon­wealth Trade Re­view.

“Brexit will have wide-rang­ing eco­nomic im­pli­ca­tions for the UK, the EU and many Com­mon­wealth mem­bers,” the re­port says.

“How­ever, there may also be im­por­tant op­por­tu­ni­ties for the UK in the post-Brexit pe­riod to... ne­go­ti­ate new bi­lat­eral trade agree­ments with in­ter­ested Com­mon­wealth mem­bers.”

Hard sell

Britain is go­ing for the hard sell dur­ing CHOGM.

The sum­mit proper is on Thurs­day and Fri­day but kicked off yes­ter­day with three days of fo­rums and events that lay the ground­work.

Britain’s In­ter­na­tional Trade Sec­re­tary Liam Fox yes­ter­day chaired a ses­sion on catalysing growth and cham­pi­oning free and fairer trade.

Mean­while Britain is host­ing a re­cep­tion aimed at show­cas­ing Bri­tish ex­ports, from food and drink to the English Premier League foot­ball tro­phy.

“You’ve got some of the fastest-grow­ing economies in the world. It will be a great op­por­tu­nity for us to re­build old friend­ships,” Bri­tish For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son told BBC tele­vi­sion.

“A lot of that is go­ing to be on the ta­ble at the Com­mon­wealth sum­mit,” he said on Sun­day.

When Britain joined the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity in 1973, it side­lined his­toric trad­ing links with its for­mer em­pire, caus­ing much hurt in some coun­tries.

Britain is due to leave the EU in March 2019. A tran­si­tion pe­riod runs un­til the end of 2020 af­ter which the UK will be out of the Euro­pean sin­gle mar­ket and cus­toms union.

Britain is gear­ing up to strike its own trade deals out­side the sin­gle mar­ket and is look­ing to its for­mer global net­work.

The Econ­o­mist mag­a­zine said on Satur­day that the Com­mon­wealth “won’t save Britain from Brexit”, call­ing the idea that Com­mon­wealth trade could re­place EU trade “an ami­able delu­sion”.

In terms of goods and ser­vices trade in 2016, Britain does more busi­ness with 15 coun­tries — nine of them in the EU — be­fore its big­gest Com­mon­wealth trade part­ners Canada and In­dia.

Over­all, the EU ac­counts for nearly half of Britain’s trade; the Com­mon­wealth ac­counts for a tenth.

Philip Mur­phy, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Com­mon­wealth Stud­ies, wrote in The Guardian news­pa­per: “Sorry, Brex­iters. Bank­ing on the Com­mon­wealth is a joke.

“The no­tion that it can pick up the slack when the UK leaves the EU is non­sense.”

Clean oceans fo­cus

Given its highly di­verse mem­ber­ship, if agree­ments can be struck within the Com­mon­wealth, they can likely achieve wider sup­port.

At the last Com­mon­wealth sum­mit in Malta in Novem­ber 2015, lead­ers struck a deal on cli­mate change that paved the way for the Paris agree­ment days af­ter­wards.

The theme this time is “To­wards a Com­mon Fu­ture”. The group is hop­ing to agree an ocean gov­er­nance char­ter, a con­nec­tiv­ity agenda for trade and in­vest­ment, and a dec­la­ra­tion on tack­ling cy­ber crime.

“CHOGM 2018 prom­ises to de­liver trans­for­ma­tional change for the peo­ple of the Com­mon­wealth,” said the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral Pa­tri­cia Scot­land.

“Im­me­di­ate im­pact com­bined with wider in­flu­ence make the Com­mon­wealth an un­par­al­lelled force for build­ing un­der­stand­ing and co­op­er­a­tion to­wards re­al­is­ing global goals for so­cial and po­lit­i­cal progress, in­clu­sive pros­per­ity, and sus­tain­able de­vel­op­ment.”

The sum­mit comes im­me­di­ately af­ter the 2018 qua­dren­nial Com­mon­wealth Games on Aus­tralia’s Gold Coast.

Britain last hosted CHOGM in 1997 and is lay­ing on the style.

Queen El­iz­a­beth II, the Head of the Com­mon­wealth, is host­ing a din­ner for the lead­ers at Buck­ing­ham Palace in Lon­don. On Fri­day they gather in pri­vate at Wind­sor Cas­tle, west of the city. — AFP

Pedes­tri­ans walk un­derneath Com­mon­wealth flags fly­ing along the Mall lead­ing to Buck­ing­ham Palace in Lon­don on Sun­day ahead of the open­ing of the bi­en­nial Com­mon­wealth Heads of Gov­ern­ment Meet­ing. — AFP/ VNA Photo

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