The Commonwealth could hold the key to Britains post-Brexit success

This week, the UK plays host to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

This is just the fourth time the summit has been hosted in Britain, and Prime Ministers and Presidents from across the globe will discuss major shared challenges of our time – from security to sustainability.

Today the Commonwealth is a modern and dynamic network of people. Half of the top 20 emerging global cities are in the Commonwealth and the family of nations is home to one third of the worlds population.

Therefore, the Commonwealth is a network with huge potential. It also represents a golden opportunity for Britain as it leaves the European Union.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that 90 per cent of global growth over the coming few years will be outside of the European Union.

The theme for the largest ever gathering of leaders in the UK is "towards a common future", and Tim Hitchens, the chief executive of the UK governments Commonwealth Summit Unit, has made a point of saying that this relates not only to the next two years, but to the role of the Commonwealth in the twenty-first century.

Its just as well. As we near the post-Brexit era, the potential role for the Commonwealth in British life should only grow.

As it is, the top ten largest Commonwealth countries – among them India, Pakistan, Australia and Canada – represent just eight per cent of our total exports. And if you then include the other 43 countries of the Commonwealth, that figure rises only to nine per cent. The European Union, meanwhile, takes in 44 per cent of our exports.

While the sizable chunk of UK trade with the EU reminds us why we need to strike a trade deal that minimises disruption, we must use our new trading position to significantly increase trade elsewhere in the world.

A Commonwealth trade review, published before the EU referendum, found business dealings between member countries was on average 19 per cent cheaper, because of factors like a shared language and similar legal systems, than between a non-Commonwealth country and a member state.

There is huge potential to develop our trade relationships with the Commonwealth and enjoy the fruits of exchange with some of the fastest-growing and most dynamic economies in the world.

Australia, Canada and India are already among the largest economies across the globe, while a number of the Asian and African member states are enjoying periods of rapid economic development.

Now that we know that the UK will be able to negotiate new trade deals during the transition period, we must strike whilst the irons hot.

The Commonwealth is a partnership of equals, and – with shared values – we can accomplish much together.

Britain has for too long neglected these opportunities. Thats why the maritime sector in the UK is working hard to strengthen links, including with India and its Sagar Mala project.

Designed to fuel Indian economic growth through maritime development, the UK is offering its expertise and specialism to help India realise those ambitions.

The International Monetary Fund predicts that 90 per cent of global growth over the coming few years will be outside of the European Union.

With this in mind, the UK should set an ambitious target to triple UK trade with the Commonwealth over the next five years.

It is an ambitious goal, but an achievable one.

The Commonwealth nations already enjoy a long-shared history, shared values and similarity in culture, language and law. This shared heritage pays off immensely when it comes to brokering new relationships and doing business.

Irrespective of Brexit implications, huge untapped trading opportunities do exist within the Commonwealth. We should look to leverage what The Commonwealth has calculated as a unique “Commonwealth advantage”, which translates into lower trading costs between two countries that are Commonwealth members.

This work implies that trade between Commonwealth members can increase by many times. Analysis presented in Commonwealth Trade Review 2015 shows that, even in the absence of any coordinated policy measures (that is, not considering the option of establishing new trading blocs), there was the potential of additional exports of $156bn, or 34 per cent of current intra-Commonwealth exports.

Of this, more than $35bn comprised potential exports from the UK.

Meanwhile, 95 per cent of all goods that arrive and leave the UK come by ship and through our ports. As an outward-looking, global trading nation, our advanced maritime sector is perfectly positioned to facilitate greater Commonwealth trade. Lets seize that opportunity.

Despite the pessimism that often pervades the debate around Brexit, Britain is immensely fortunate to have ties to some of the worlds most exciting economies.

I for one look forward to a future in which our bonds grow stronger, and in which we share our people, our goods and our services for reciprocal advantage.

In doing this, this network of nations can flourish. This is the spirit of the Commonwealth.

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