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Brexit, free trade, tariffs, the Blue Charter, sustainable development goals (SDGs) and next week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) were all discussed at the official launch of the 2018 Commonwealth Trade Review last night.
In front of a packed conference room in central London, High Commissioners from across the Commonwealth, along with other dignitaries, journalists and guests, heard that intra-Commonwealth trade in goods and services grew to US$560 billion in 2016, representing around 20 per cent of Commonwealth countries’ total trade with the World. Assuming the rebound in global trade is sustained, intra-Commonwealth trade should reach US$700 billion by 2020.
Secretary-General Patricia Scotland underscored the value of trade to meeting all SDGs, saying: “Intra-Commonwealth investment flows are strong. Our members tend to invest almost three times more in each other than in other countries. Building on this, there are measures which could significantly boost intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. By doing so, we would also be taking decisive action towards all our member countries achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.”
“We are working to secure effective policy mechanisms for increased trade, access to trade, higher employment and business growth. As the international community recognised with the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, trade is central to achieving inclusive prosperity. And so, in this context, intra-Commonwealth trade and investment are of immense importance.”
She also spoke on the value of ‘kick-starter’ projects that focus on overcoming services trade barriers and the transition from Least Developed Country (LDC) status, a graduation process that some Commonwealth LDC member states are about to begin.
The Secretary-General then took part in a lively panel discussion between Chris Southworth from the International Chamber of Commerce (ICC), Richard Moir, CEO of London Wealth Forums, Professor Alan Winters, Director of the UK Trade Policy Observatory, and Lord McConnell, co-chair of the Parliamentarian Group for Sustainable Development Goals. In an open forum, questions were posed by journalists and guests alike.
ICC Secretary-General Southworth said: “We are huge advocates of the multi-lateral rules-based trading system. And we are aware with the political system as it is, there is great opportunity for business to step up to the plate and be advocates for inclusive free trade.”
But he stressed the need for focus, saying: “To enable all those technological and new generation entrepreneurs to access world markets, we need to be really ambitious and really focussed. The danger within global forums is we all come away with shopping lists of things to do and it is too many. The message from business is always to shorten the list – it’s better to work on five big ticket items and getting them done, over 50 items and not doing them quite so well.”
Secretary-General Scotland then spoke of the changing geographic landscape of global trade saying: “Trade is going East. If you look at where we were 20 years ago it was clear that the centre of global trade was in the West.
“But now, we are going to Africa, and we are going to Asia, and one of the exciting things that is happening now is that the Commonwealth can bring with it some of the developed countries in the West and head East with us – those opportunities are going to grow and we know we don’t have to go into long complex negotiations, because the trading framework is already available today through the Commonwealth,” she said.
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