Future of the Commonwealth — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Richard Graham Richard Graham Conservative, Gloucester 2:30 pm, 21st March 2018

My right hon. Friend is absolutely right; he will be very welcome here. The changes in southern Africa, both in Zimbabwe and South Africa itself, give us all hope that the direction of southern Africa is on a positive trend, in the sense that in both cases the changes have been done bloodlessly. I very much hope that South Africa will be a keen part of the Commonwealth again, and that perhaps next year we will be able to welcome Zimbabwe back into the Commonwealth family, which I am sure my right hon. Friend Sir Nicholas Soames would welcome, too.

Although the Department for International Trade wants to see, precisely as both hon. Members have mentioned, the benefits of intra-Commonwealth trade spreading more widely across the Commonwealth and reaching forward to a world where free trade agreements could be more possible and practical, the biggest challenge to the ease of doing business is in the non-tariff barriers. At some point we must try to do more about the practical challenges to benefiting from cross-border trade in the way that Malaysia and Singapore, two far east Commonwealth countries, trade together over each other’s borders.

It is amazing that we have not yet made more progress—by “we”, I mean the Commonwealth in this context. I first started working on these issues with the then Minister for the Commonwealth, Lord Howe, a great champion of the Commonwealth since its birth. With Lord Marland leading the charge at the reinvigorated Commonwealth and Enterprise Investment Council—my right hon. Friend Sir Hugo Swire is part of that team—we have the opportunity to help steer the Commonwealth in a more business-friendly direction that will advocate free trade.

The potential for our own free trade agreements in the United Kingdom means that during our period of leadership of the Commonwealth over the next four years, there is no excuse for not seeing a sea change in the number of free trade agreements and direct bilateral business being done throughout the Commonwealth.