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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:18 pm on 21st March 2018.

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Photo of Gillian Keegan Gillian Keegan Conservative, Chichester 3:18 pm, 21st March 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing this debate and on his excellent speech, particularly his focus on the United Nations sustainability development goals.

The UK’s trading future on the international stage is promising, and nowhere more so than within the Commonwealth. As a group of 54 nations, we are part of a collective comprised of 2.4 billion people—a third of the global population—and occupying about a quarter of the world’s land mass. By building on our relationships within the Commonwealth, we will further the goal, set out by my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister, of becoming a truly global Britain.

The Commonwealth has strong foundations rooted in seven decades of collaboration. It has helped support smaller nations develop, strengthening economies and democratic institutions. Our collective economic strength is significant: a shared gross national income of more than $10 trillion, and internal Commonwealth trade is expected to grow to $1 trillion by 2020. As we seek to develop new opportunities further, we do so from a platform of shared histories. In many cases we have a common language and a common legal structure. We should therefore in theory have fewer barriers to overcome in reaching agreements. Already, 80% of Commonwealth countries benefit from preferential access to the UK’s market. Furthermore, the Royal Commonwealth Society has highlighted the fact that there are already significant trade advantages within the bloc. In a recent study it found that transaction costs between two Commonwealth partners are 19% less than they are between non-Commonwealth nations: that is driven largely by language and legal systems.

When we consider bolstering our trading relations internationally, we need to do it strategically. I am pleased that the Department for International Trade is working with many of our partners to lay down the basis for future trade agreements. However, we are limited by our capacity to broker deals. Free trade agreements are clearly an ambition, and rightly. However, they do not always meet expectations. In most cases deals are designed around goods, but if we are to capitalise on our competitive advantages they will need to include service markets. The reality is that for businesses that trade internationally there are several non-tariff barriers that free trade agreements often do not address, such as licensing agreements, capital controls and ownership rules. The British Chambers of Commerce identified non-tariff barriers as the most important area of concern for business in non-EU third-party agreements.