Today (13 March) is Commonwealth Day – an annual celebration observed by people from the 56 member nations of the Commonwealth.
The first such day to occur since the passing of HM Queen Elizabeth II, this year’s theme is “forging a sustainable and peaceful common future”.
To mark Commonwealth Day, the IOE&IT Daily Update looks at some of the key developments to have occurred over the last year regarding UK trade with Commonwealth nations, including initiatives supported by the Institute of Export & International Trade (IOE&IT).
‘Make most of Commonwealth advantage’
IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione is currently in Bangladesh where he is speaking at the Bangladesh Business Summit as he continues to travel to Commonwealth partners to advocate for UK trade and the IOE&IT’s support for traders throughout the 56 member nations.
Talking to the IOE&IT Daily Update from Dhaka, Forgione referred to figures from the government which show that intra-Commonwealth investment is 27% higher than between non-Commonwealth countries, with bilateral trading costs on average a fifth lower due to the shared language, legal and economic systems among member nations.
“UK businesses need to make the most of the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ because doing intra-Commonwealth trade is cheaper and easier to do because of our shared history, legal systems and initiatives such as the Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS).”
The DCTS is the UK’s tariff schedule for 65 developing countries globally, including several Commonwealth nations such as Bangladesh. It replaces the EU’s Generalised System of Preferences, which the UK had previously adopted before Brexit.
Forgione that the IOE&IT is “actively supporting” businesses to make use of DCTS.
Bangladesh’s $1trn GDP ambitions
At the summit, Bangladesh’s prime minister, Sheikh Hasina, said her country’s economy will reach a GDP size of US$1trn within the next decade.
Forgione said the IOE&IT is keen to play its part in “helping Bangladesh achieve this ambitious target” by encouraging and facilitating bilateral trade between the UK and Bangladesh.
While attending the event, Forgione chaired a panel on apparel and textile trade – a sector in Bangladesh with exports that could reach US$100bn in value by 2030.
Honoured to have chaired the Textiles & Apparel session #BangladeshBusinessForum with Minister Mr Gazi MP, Mr Mohiuddin MP, Sridevi Kalavakolanu, Mr Hassan, Mr Ali Khokon, Mr Hatem & Mr Ashraf. Bangladesh textile manufacturing leads the world @IOExport 🇬🇧🇧🇩 pic.twitter.com/2HxgyRqxn7— Marco Forgione (@marco4gione) March 12, 2023
While in Dhaka, Forgione also visited Kohinoor Yeasmin, the CEO of Tarango, a Bangladeshi social enterprise that works with female artisans.
Yeasmin was one of four female entrepreneurs who the IOE&IT sponsored to attend the WTO Public Forum last year. The four women were participants in the International Trade Centre’s (ITC) SheTrades initiative, which the IOE&IT partnered with for the Forum.
Talking to the IOE&IT Daily Update, Yeasmin said she had met “a lot of contacts” at the Forum and has since been able to employ “50 more young women” on the back of the business generated there.
“And this matters because they fully depend on us,” she said. “Their full income goes to their children’s education, and they are often earning for their house and home too.”
The full interview with Yeasmin will be published in the IOE&IT Daily Update later this week.
In June 2022, a team of senior representatives from the IOE&IT – including Forgione – attended the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Kigali, and met with the then UK prime minister Boris Johnson, HM King Charles III and the Rwandan president Paul Kagame.
Addressing business leaders at the event, Johnson said the UK government was keen to sign free trade agreements with Commonwealth markets, claiming that GDP in the organisation was set to grow by 50% over the next five years.
“The government that I’m proud to lead has the will,” he said. “And our wonderful Commonwealth ... has the super-fertiliser.”
Strengthening trade ties with Commonwealth markets has become a priority for the British government since Brexit.
Speaking on an IOE&IT webinar last year, Paul McComb, the director of exports at the Department for Business and Trade, said: “We are definitely pursuing, the best we can, mutual trading arrangements between the UK and Commonwealth.”
McComb added that it is also an ambition to “follow through” on new trade deals by making it easier for firms to take advantage of their benefits.
The UK has signed deals with Australia and New Zealand – its first completely new agreements following Brexit – which it hopes will be ratified in the coming weeks.
It is also currently negotiating a new agreement with India, as well as fresh terms with Canada, with which it signed a roll-over agreement following Brexit.
The UK has also signed digital and green trade agreements with Singapore, and is continuing to negotiate ascension to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which contains multiple Commonwealth nations.
Henriette Gjaerde, a trade and customs stakeholder relationship specialist at the IOE&IT, told the IOE&IT Daily Update that she is looking forward to updating IOE&IT members about the benefits of the deals the UK has signed with Australia and New Zealand on webinars that are currently being arranged for late April.
“We're looking forward to raising awareness of the benefits and opportunities the trade agreements bring for businesses in these markets, educating businesses on how they can be utilised through our free webinars,” she said.
“We urge businesses to reach out to us at the IOE&IT if they have any questions, are facing any challenges with the FTAs, or want to share their success stories,” she added.
The IOE&IT also ran a free webinar on export opportunities for UK traders in the Caribbean last year and is looking to run an additional webinar on trading with India in the summer.
The IOE&IT is partnering with the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT) to deliver training on how UK and Indian firms can trade compliantly and successfully with each other.
The IOE&IT is establishing a presence in Africa in part of its bids to boost both UK-African and intra-African trade. This includes the establishment of ‘digital trade corridors’ which use the latest supply chain technologies to reduce non-tariff barriers and help governments to de-risk cross border goods movements.
IOE&IT director of strategic projects and international development, Kevin Shakespeare, told the IOE&IT Daily Update:
“It is with great pride to IOE&IT and me personally to be involved in trade activity in Africa, starting with the delivery of international trade qualifications in cooperation with the International Trade Centres and the national export promotion agencies.
“We also work closely with TradeMark Africa in supporting trade corridors which reduce the cost and time to trade.
“IOE&IT’s strategy is to support trade with Africa and intra-African trade, recognising opportunities arising from the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) and trade preference schemes such as the UK's Developing Countries Trading Scheme (DCTS).
We will do this through learning, education and capacity building services as well as supporting supply chains and regional value chains. In essence we aim to educate, and also to facilitate, trade.”
IOE&IT in the Caribbean
The IOE&IT has also supported MSMEs in the Caribbean to access UK and Caribbean markets by designing and delivering training on export logistics in partnership with ITC.
“I am pleased with the IOE&IT efforts and commitment to build capacity in the Caribbean and increase trading opportunities,” said Dadria Smith, a customs and trade consultant at IOE&IT who delivered some of this training.
“It was also an honour to have represented the IOE&IT at the Word Free Zone Conference held in Jamaica, in a panel discussion on doing business with UK freeports,” she added. “Indeed there is great potential for many more business opportunities between the UK and the Caribbean.”