Commonwealth: It’s time to talk tradePosted by AlexT - 30/09/09 at 11:09 am
For a group of nations that share a remarkable number of attributes such as language, legal architecture, and a myriad of other bilateral and multilateral relations it has always seemed remarkable that the topic of Commonwealth free trade has not taken a more prominent place in our public debate.
A study commissioned for the CHOGM in 1997 found that Commonwealth economies experienced an average of ten to fifteen percent lower costs in doing business with another Commonwealth nation than with a non-member state. The various shared attributes created what the study’s authors named the ‘Commonwealth Effect.’
If the Commonwealth today were an economic bloc, it would be equal in size to the United States; it would have thirteen of the worlds fastest growing economies; it would possess most of the world’s leading knowledge economies outside of the US; it would have one third of the world’s population; and would represent forty percent of the membership of the World Trade Organisation.
If an agreement were achieved and it could bring per capita incomes up to a level comparable with the developed world, the Commonwealth would have an economy valued at over US$45 trillion - the equivalent of adding the combined GDP’s of the European Union with that of NAFTA - then doubling it.
For small and developing nations of the Commonwealth, such an initiative is a positive reaction to their calls for ‘trade, not aid’ and a genuine response to such programmes as NEPAD and individual national targets for UN Millennium development goals.
Already, Australia has negotiated, or is negotiating, FTA’s with New Zealand, Singapore, and Malaysia. New Zealand is doing likewise. Canada, at present, is pursuing similar arrangements with Singapore and the members of CARICOM.
In November of 2005, at the Commonwealth Business Summit in Malta, the final communique stated that countries should consider ‘the possibility of establishing a Commonwealth preferential, or free trade area’ should the WTO’s Doha Round prove fruitless. Four years on, the success of that round has been as elusive as the action to make good on that statement.
We may not see a Commonwealth Free Trade Agreement, with full participation, any time in the immediate future. On the other hand, the promotion of a CFTA pushes the debate for freer trade among Commonwealth countries. That, in itself, is worth some discussion.
This article was written by Brent Cameron, a former assistant to a member of the legislature in the Canadian province of Ontario. He is the author of ‘The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade’, published in 2005.