As the UK Government continues to push on resolutely in the direction of Brexit, the headlines and projections as to what this will mean for the economy do not make for hopeful reading. An uncertain and costly process seems largely unavoidable.
It is against this backdrop that the Government embraced Commonwealth Day this week with renewed vigour, using it not only as an opportunity to go through the usual routine ceremony and diplomatic protocol, but to also send a clear signal of its intention to invest more time and energy into ensuring that the Commonwealth becomes more economically relevant globally in the coming years.
While historically Europe has had the bigger market, Commonwealth countries have been outstripping them when it comes to rates of growth and are now overtaking these markets. The Commonwealth’s combined estimated GDP of US$10.4 trillion in 2017 is predicted to grow to US$13 trillion in 2020 and half of the top 20 global emerging cities are in the Commonwealth, including New Delhi, Nairobi, Johannesburg and Chennai.
While the UK and much of Europe has an ageing population, much of the Commonwealth has a youthful demographic. In fact more than 60% of the Commonwealth’s population of 2.4 billion is aged 29 or under.
It was with all this in mind that this week the UK Government released more information regarding plans for the Commonwealth Summit to be held in London in April 2018, announcing venues for engagements as prestigious as Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle. A ministerial committee to oversee the preparations has been formed, jointly headed by Home Secretary Amber Rudd and FCO Secretary Boris Johnson. The Summit will also see the UK will take over the chair of the Commonwealth at the summit for a two-year period.
The idea that Britain can mitigate some of the negative impacts of Brexit and its worsening relations with European counterparts by forging closer economic ties with Commonwealth countries has been slowly gaining ground ever since the EU referendum in June 2016. Only last month the All Party Parliamentary Group on Africa released a report on ‘Africa-UK Trade and Development Cooperation Relations in the Transitional and Post Brexit Period’.
While bilateral costs for trading partners in Commonwealth countries are already on average 19% lower than those with non-member countries, the interest the UK Government has in growing funding for Aid for Trade projects in these countries and the surrounding regions is clear. In order for trade deals to be seen as fair and inclusive, rather than risk being labelled exploitative, more investment in capacity building, from the physical to the fiscal, is required. While the rhetoric that through development spending we are investing in our trading partners of the future has often been used to justify healthy budgets, with Brexit oncoming we now find that the future may be closer than we think.