The Commonwealth - a route to prosperity

As the UK struggles for growth and our EU partners stagnate we should look to Anglophone nations that can help Great Britain prosper once more

by Tim Hewish on 15 October 2012 09:26

Last week at Conservative Party Conference the Freedom Association and I launched a publication that advocates the establishment of freer trade and stronger economic ties between the UK and the Commonwealth. Common-Trade, Common-Growth, Common-Wealth is a book that demonstrates the powerful yet under utilised economic credentials of the Commonwealth and how these can be enhanced for the benefit of all.

The Commonwealth is not merely a relic of Empire to be ignored and looked down upon. Instead, it is a collection of 53 developed, developing, and emerging nations across the globe that spans all habitable continents with English as its lingua franca and most of its legal systems based on English Common Law.

It is a 21st century, dynamic, and internationalist organisation that can trade on a 24/7 basis. We are looking to establish a network of shopkeepers where when two businessmen sit coincidentally side by side on a plane at Heathrow or Pearson Airport, and ask why they are going to Singapore or Rwanda, both their replies are that it is easier to do business in the Commonwealth.

I am extremely alarmed that the UK runs massive trade deficits with the European Union. Our current total EU deficit is £41bn and counting. Most concerning is that the UK-German deficit has increased from £3.7bn in 2000 to £16.8bn in 2010. This is despite the fact that Germany is our second largest trade partner behind the United States. This clearly shows that if our trade is not balanced then we risk trading our way into poverty, not prosperity.

This weekend it was reported that Michael Gove, the Education Secretary, said, “We are ready to walk out on Europe”. Strong rhetoric, but how would the UK survive outside the sheltered, but dwindling market of the EU? My publication explains how with a number of modifications and reforms we can set the Commonwealth onto a path of mutual affluence.

I am not advocating that the UK leaves one restrictive economic union only to fall into another. The UK, as a nation state, should be free to forge economic ties with any nation or grouping. I envisage a world where the UK joins NAFTA – renaming it the North Atlantic Free Trade Agreement; re-joins the European Free Trade Association (EFTA); and creates partnerships with other key Commonwealth states, such as India and Singapore as well as the Caribbean and Anglo-African nations.

At present, the UK is forbidden from doing so as it remains in the outdated EU customs union, which means that our ability to create trade deals is given away to the EU Trade Commission. In addition, the UK has surrendered its seat at the World Trade Organisation. The UK is forced to hide behind a tariff wall, which is protectionist and doesn’t allow British goods to compete on the world’s stage.

This has to fundamentally change if the UK is to transform itself into an independent global trader. Other economic partnerships, such as ASEAN or NAFTA, do not confine members to that specific bloc; consequently why should the UK continue to persist in obsolete union of European powers? The UK must regain its economic sovereignty.

Deliberately, the majority of our recommendations within the book can be realised, while the UK remains shackled to the EU customs union. These range from a Commonwealth business visa and a federated stock exchange, to an investment and development bank. We also suggest every day practical solutions for SME growth, such as a Commonwealth trade mark and a trade web site hub, making businesses in the UK reach out to Commonwealth consumers, not just European ones.

If the UK were to leave the EU then it needs a ready-made structure that can immediately support its trade capacity. Eurosceptics of all parties need a positive story to tell.

Only by building up the Commonwealth to a first rate international trade centre now can the UK sustain itself and grow later, in a post-EU world. This has to commence immediately otherwise the UK risks being left behind in the growth areas of the world.

What we need is the political will to act. I firmly believe that our paper sets out a robust blueprint.

If you would like to learn more about our ideas and pick up a copy then our Westminster launch for the publication takes place on Monday, October 22nd at 6.30pm in the House of Commons, Committee Room 8. We are fortunate to have a panel consisting of Kate Hoey MP; Lord Popat, Chairman of the Conservative Friends of India; Richard Graham MP, Chairman of the Commonwealth All Party Group; and Henry Bellingham MP, former Minister for Africa. Please RVSP to dia@tfa.net.

You can also like us on Facebook and read more on our website.

In this Jubilee year, I believe that it very much the year of a Commonwealth re-launch. I hope you can join us on the next step of this journey.

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