Although it may already seem a while back, the second quarter of 2012 marked a true milestone in British international trade. Namely, for the first time since Britain’s joining the European Common Market in the 1970s, we exported more to countries outside of the EU than to the EU itself.
Of course, with the collapse of the Eurozone, and growth in the so called BRIC countries – Brazil, Russia, India, China – such a development was only a matter of time.
And here is where The Commonwealth of Nations can come in particularly useful for the post-EU Britain, given it contains one of the BRICs (India) as well as some of the other powers of the developing world (e.g. Nigeria, South Africa, Malaysia), developed countries in sought after markets (Canada, Australia) and rivals (Singapore – which rivals London as a financial hub).
I propose the Commonwealth be turned into a “common market” platform, which I suggest to name: Commonwealth Market.
Of course, Britain would not want to jump from one failed union to another; hence I would envisage the Commonwealth Market sticks purely to business of international trade and nothing else.
Because the UK will need to negotiate bilateral trade agreements with the EU, it will be able to also push for being the bridge linking trade between the Commonwealth countries and the EU.
Paradoxically, by way of its trade agreements with the continent, Britain becoming the gateway of the Commonwealth countries into Europe (and vice versa) could save the Old Continent from the brink of the abyss by providing it with global trade which it desperately needs, and therefore Brussels-Berlin should be relatively easily persuaded to allow such a bilateral agreement.
In terms of the Commonwealth countries’ buy-in to this idea: let’s not forget that before the UK (and most of Western Europe) set about empire building, it was all about global trade, where British companies such as East India Company or Hudson’s Bay Company facilitated intercontinental business.
That is why the countries which are members of the Commonwealth were in most cases initially interlinked with each other by way of trade. As such, it should be quite natural for the Commonwealth’s members to rekindle those old trade relationships. And of course Britain would facilitate their trade with the rest of European continent, hence securing their growth.
The City could also benefit by becoming a trading hub for the Commonwealth currencies within the European market. That would be needed if the trade with these countries were to increase substantially. For example, the idea of City being a European hub for the Chinese Yuan has already been discussed. Now, how greatly could the City’s position strengthen if it also became a European hub for trading Indian Rupee, Australian Dollar, Canadian Dollar and Nigerian Naira (given the rise of influence of Nigeria’s economy and hence its currency within Africa).
Britain could become the de facto leader of this Commonwealth Market and the representative of its interests within the EU, which obviously is a highly lucrative export market.
Given the world is really becoming a global village it only makes sense that we embrace these changes and expand our sights outside the European continent. Funnily enough, we already have looked at trade in this way centuries ago, but it was the failure of our localised common market which is bringing back the discussion about the obvious merits of global trade.
Przemek Skwirczyński is chairman of Friends of Poland in UKIP