UK and Commonwealth to champion free trade in face of growing global challenges

The UK will discuss with its Commonwealth partners the importance of promoting an open, fair and inclusive global rules-based system with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its heart and underline the importance of fighting protectionism.

International Trade Secretary, Liz Truss has today addressed Commonwealth Ministers and High Commissioners at a reception to mark the start of the annual Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting.

Speaking at the reception in London, Ms Truss said: “We face a challenging global outlook in which protectionist tendencies are increasingly on the rise. But we can and must seize the opportunity Brexit presents to take advantage of new partnerships with some of our oldest allies across the Commonwealth.

“The world is ready to sign free trade deals with Britain. Other countries want our voice at the WTO table, they want to work with our people and have better links with our industries.

“Together, the 53 member states of the Commonwealth have the unique ability to be able to lead the defence of free trade, working together to shape new policies and approaches, showing the world a route to prosperity that lies through partnership, not protectionism.”

The Commonwealth is one of the UK’s largest trading partners and our trading relationship was worth over £100bn in the twelve months to March 2019.

The UK currently trades with the majority of Commonwealth members on preferential terms, providing UK businesses with easy access to some of the world’s largest markets.

The 53 member states in the Commonwealth boast a combined population of over 2.4 billion people and intra-Commonwealth trade is projected to reach more than £500bn by next year.

Thursday’s meeting will be chaired by the UK and discussion will focus on strengthening multilateral trade, fighting protectionism, as well as the need to make trade more inclusive and sustainable, by engaging women and youth at all levels.

Ms Truss also announced an additional £2.5m of funding for the Commonwealth Standards Network (CSN). The CSN works to increase use of international standards across the Commonwealth, in order to promote inclusive intra-Commonwealth trade. The additional funding will help the CSN continue its valuable work to break down non-tariff barriers to trade and support institutions and exporters in developing countries to use standards, so they can access new markets and attract investment.

International Development Secretary, Alok Sharma said: “UK aid is vital in reducing barriers to trade and investment across the Commonwealth. Our work is helping developing countries to adopt international standards, attract inward investment that will see them become economically self-sustaining and, ultimately, our trading partners of the future.”

The UK has also signed a new trade continuity agreement with the Southern African Customs Union and Mozambique (SACUM). This trade continuity agreement will see British businesses and consumers benefitting from continued trade with SACUM after the UK leaves the European Union.

The agreement will help to further strengthen the trading relationship between the UK and SACUM nations, which was worth £9.7bn last year.