Trade Ministers from 35 Commonweath Nations held talks in London last week. At right (front row) is Barbados’ Minister of Trade Donville Inniss. (GP)
COMMONWEALTH TRADE and business ministers concluded their two-day meeting in London with a commitment to make full use of the ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ to boost trade within the 52-member grouping.
The meeting which took place March 9 to 10 2017, comprised an interactive session with business leaders at Lancaster House and a closed ministerial session at Marlborough House, the secretariat of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Ministers from 35 countries, along with representatives from others, attended the meeting, which was jointly convened by the Commonwealth Secretariat and the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council.
The Barbados Delegation was led by the Donville Inniss, Minister of Industry, International Business, Commerce and Small Business Development.
In her address to ministers, Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: “On trade, our Commonwealth family has never been more needed that it is today. We all know that we’re living in troubled times and together we will have to look very carefully at what advantages there are within our family. Intra-Commonwealth trade has never been more important.”
“There is a 19 per cent trade advantage within the Commonwealth. We must see how the global trade landscape can be changed in favour of that advantage and the particular ‘Common’ factors that drive and differentiate intra-Commonwealth trade and investment be improved.”
At the meeting, ministers focused on opportunities for the Commonwealth to strengthen collaboration by promoting intra-Commonwealth trade and investment flows. They identified key challenges hindering trade competitiveness and discussed how to overcome them through mutual support.
Ministers underscored the importance of building a global economy that benefits all of the Commonwealth’s 2.4 billion citizens, noting that developing countries need an enabling global trading environment to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.
Ministers also noted the important role of the private sector in facilitating trade and investment. They welcomed Commonwealth initiatives to forge business to business links and pledged to continue to engage with the private sector in a pan-Commonwealth setting. More than 60 business leaders from a variety of sectors from across the Commonwealth attended.
Lord Marland, Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council said, “There is an opportunity for the Commonwealth to demonstrate global leadership on free and fair trade. Businesses want to see stability, transparency, predictability and the rule of law and the Commonwealth can work together to improve the ease of doing business in all member countries. This will allow companies, particularly Small and Medium Enterprises, to have the confidence to trade and invest across the Commonwealth. Creating a conducive business environment and helping businesses find a route to market is core to the enabling role of our organisation. It was essential to have the private sector fully engaged in the Trade Ministers Meeting.”
Discussions also took place on the likely impact of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, which could disrupt market access by many Commonwealth ACP countries into the Europe.
Dr Liam Fox, the UK Secretary of International Trade indicated that the “Commonwealth of Nations has the opportunity to lead the defence of free trade, working together to shape new policies and approaches, showing the world a route to prosperity that lies through partnership, not protectionism.”
Speaking at the meeting, Minister Inniss noted that “Brexit and the USA’s decision to pull out of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) have drastically changed global trade networks and as a result a Commonwealth trading system group is perhaps more important now than ever before.”
However, Minister Inniss emphasised that discussions on trade cannot focus solely on the facilitation of trade in goods as the economy of Barbados and other small states in the Caribbean are based on trade in services.
“Barbados and CARICOM as a whole maintains a healthy global surplus with respect to our balance of trade in services. Furthermore, for the majority of our economies, the services sector comprises the bulk of economic activity. In addition, flows of inward investment into Barbados is essential to our economic well-being.”
The Barbados Minister drew the meeting’s attention to the decline of correspondence banking relationships due to derisking.
“Asymmetrical relationships exist where institutions protecting the advanced economies in the North impose penalties and fines and, as a result, financial institutions have terminated banking relationships within the Caribbean deemed to be high risk. Despite being free from any significant allegations of anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing, the Caribbean has been the most severely punished by this derisking strategy.”
Minister Inniss was joined at the meeting by the Barbados High Commissioner in London, Guy Hewitt and Chief Economist Bertram Johnson. The Delegation was strategically supported by Ambassador Gail Mathurin, CARICOM Director General of Trade and Dr Pamela Coke-Hamilton, Director of Caribbean Export. (PR)