INTERNATIONAL

Commonwealth trade meet begins

British Trade SecretaryLiam Fox

British Trade SecretaryLiam Fox  

An inaugural Commonwealth summit focused on stimulating trade within the group kicked off on Thursday in London, as government representatives and business people gathered to discuss opportunities for growth. The meeting, though planned before last year’s Brexit referendum, has acquired new significance as a result of it, as Britain pushes for trade deals beyond the EU borders.

The two-day event involves a series of round-table discussions between ministers from over 30 countries and chief executives, followed by a ministerial round-table, which its organisers hope will kick-start further action on strengthening cross-Commonwealth trade, ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in the U.K., which is expected to bring together leaders as well as 2,000 businesses from across the group.

The Commonwealth leadership is targeting an increase in intra-group trade to $1 trillion by 2020, from $750 billion. Organisers of the trade summit are hopeful that a Commonwealth accord that recognises the benefits of trade within the bloc and provides the framework for potential trade initiatives between groupings within it is achievable in the next couple of years. India is being represented by Commerce Secretary Rita A. Teotia, who took part in panel discussions on the ease of doing business and creating an export economy. Ms. Teotia’s visit will be followed by that of M.J. Akbar, Minister of State for External Affairs, who will be attending the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group meeting next week, also in London. “From today, till the CHOGM summit, the Commonwealth will be an important part of our agenda,” said Deputy High Commissioner Dinesh Patnaik on Thursday.

Ties beyond EU

At the event, British Trade Secretary Liam Fox spoke of Britain’s eagerness to forge stronger ties beyond the EU. “Protectionism can be a seductive but a false friend.”

Speaking at the start of the day, Lord Marland, chair of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, noted the sharp disparity between the population of the Commonwealth (around a third of the world’s population) and its share of trade (around 15%). “That gives great potential,” he said adding that common actors such as language and similarities in legal and regulatory regimes meant that the costs of trade could be on average 19% lower compared to other states. Changing attitudes towards globalisation in other parts of the world added to the opportunities presented to the Commonwealth to stimulate trade within the group, he said.

“When countries protect themselves, it will give short-term benefit to sectors but it can do great harm,” said New Zealand’s Minister for Trade Todd McClay ahead of the discussions. “We need outcomes that help bring us together and make trade freer and fairer and helps our economies grow.”

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