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UK looks to Commonwealth for trade prosperity

The Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting is taking place in London this week. In addition thereto, the Commonwealth Business Forum is taking place where business leaders of the Commonwealth interact with each other and the respective governments.


On Monday several key issues where highlighted by amongst others, Prime Minister Teresa May and Secretary of State for International Trade, Dr Liam Fox. Importantly from a UK perspective, it would appear as if the UK is looking at non-EU trading partners in earnest in order to diversify its trading basket post-Brexit. In this context, the UK seeks to revitalise the Commonwealth and build on the existing relationships to bolster trade between the UK and its fellow Commonwealth nations. PM May stated that the Commonwealth should set the pace of international trade and in fact respond to the current rise in protectionism. This was echoed by Dr Fox who stated that the Commonwealth must take the lead on trade at the WTO. WTO Director-General, Roberto Azevêdo, welcomed support for the WTO and stated that nations must rally around the WTO as it is the only institution preventing economic uncertainty.

This renewed interest in the Commonwealth presents opportunities not only for the UK but for the other nations of the Commonwealth. The UK’s narrative changed somewhat from the Brexit campaign narrative in that Brexit would in fact allow the UK to escape the shackles of the EU and move towards even freer trade than what it was enjoying under the EU. This presents potential opportunities for numerous Commonwealth Nations.

In a side meeting which Trade Law Chambers attended at South Africa House, London, Trade and Industry Minister Rod Davies gave assurances that the UK would enter into a carbon copy of the Economic Partnership Agreement with the SADC EPA Member States (being South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia and Swaziland) to cater for trade post-Brexit. This will allow South Africa to enjoy the free trade benefits when exporting to the UK once the UK is no longer part of the EU. UK goods would similarly enjoy preferential access to the South African market (in fact the entire SADC EPA market). The intention would be to enter into negotiations thereafter to address specific issues which could further be liberalized, such as the tariff rate quotas many South African agricultural product faces when exported to the EU under the SADC EPA.

During the entire Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, the UK drove trade amongst the Commonwealth. Only time will tell whether this vigour will last and whether other nations, including South Africa, will be inspired by the opportunities in order to capitalise thereon.

To read a story in the Business Day in which Rian Geldenhuys comments on the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting, please click here

Rian Geldenhuys
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