Prime minster Boris Johnson has today said that the Commonwealth can be a “miracle fertiliser” for businesses and that each member nation can “prosper from free trade and free enterprise”.
He was speaking to industry leaders – including IOE&IT director general Marco Forgione (pictured above) – at the Commonwealth Business Forum in Kigali, which is taking place alongside the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting this week.
His comments came as international trade experts told an IOE&IT webinar today that digital trade is a significant area of growth in the 54-nation organisation.
After claiming that GDP in the Commonwealth is set to grow by 50% over the next five years, Johnson said the UK will continue to sign free trade agreements with fellow members to create more opportunities for UK traders.
“We in the UK have the technology, the city of London certainly has the finance,” he said, according to the Guardian. “The government that I’m proud to lead has the will. And our wonderful Commonwealth ... has the super-fertiliser.”
His comments were reinforced later in the day by the Department for International Trade’s director of UK exports, Paul McComb, who was appearing on an IOE&IT webinar about opportunities for UK exporters in the Commonwealth.
McComb noted that several of the UK’s post-Brexit trade agreements and ongoing negotiations have been with Commonwealth countries including Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India and Singapore.
“We are definitely pursuing, the best we can, mutual trading arrangements between the UK and Commonwealth,” he said.
McComb added that the government is continuing to be “unrelenting in our ambition to build really strong trading relationships with Commonwealth nations”, but added that it is also an ambition to “follow through” on these deals, making it easier for firms to take advantage of their benefits.
His comments came as 24% of delegates attending the webinar said that a lack of trade deals or preferential tariffs was the main obstacle to their doing more trade with the Commonwealth.
This was followed by lack of market access (21%) and lack of export skills and knowledge (21%).
Digital services trend
Fellow panellist Salamat Ali, an international trade economist at the Commonwealth Secretariat, noted that UK-Commonwealth trade is moving towards being more focussed around services than goods.
He also said that digital services were an area of potential growth in trade within Commonwealth markets.
“Over the last two years since Covid there’s been a huge uptake in digital services in Commonwealth markets, with now over 50% of services in Commonwealth countries being delivered digitally, including in education, health, financial services and insurance,” he said.
McComb and Ali were joined on the panel by Sangheeta Khorana, the chair of the IOE&IT academic board and a professor in economics at Bournemouth University.
Khorana joined the webinar from Kigali, where she has been attending the Business Forum as part of a delegation from the IOE&IT.
Khorana and Forgione have met prime minister Johnson, Prince Charles and Rwandan president Paul Kagame while in Kigali.