Opinion: Looking ahead to The Commonwealth

Writing for Parliament Street, Chad Blackman offers an interesting insight into what the future could hold for Britain and The Commonwealth. 


With a general election in the United Kingdom a mere three months away and with the possibility of one of the world’s largest global trading nations and players, leaving the European Union (EU) trading bloc, there is arguably no better time for the legislature to give consideration to formulating a trading regime with the members of the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth nations share largely more than a Head of State (bar the few who have become Republics). With historical links in law, values, sports (cricket, rugby and football),as well as the high premium placed on democracy, The Commonwealth presents an opportunity for the business class in Britain (and the Commonwealth) to explore new markets for trade in goods and services, with the creation of a Commonwealth Free Trade Area (CFTA).

Whilst pursuing a new trading regime with the fifty-three (53) member State organization ought not to be necessarily seen as a replacement to the current EU project, creating a new trading regime with the former can lead to a myriad of economic benefits to the United Kingdom. It must be noted that my take on the proposed Commonwealth project would be the purpose of a single market for the trade in goods and services: not of labour mobility amongst its members.

Sceptics may be tempted to argue that the UK has little in common relative to its competitive advantage in technology, legal systems and economic infrastructure to effectively ensure such a bloc is viable. However, on closer inspection it would reveal that within the Commonwealth exist a vast number of trading nations with significant capacities to trade with Britain. For example, two of the BRICS nations, namely India and South Africa are members of the Commonwealth. Economic giants Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, oil rich Nigeria and Trinidad & Tobago; Off-shore financial centres Barbados, The Bahamas and Malta along with many mineral rich African Commonwealth nations, provides for a solid platform for both economic growth and development.

One of the distinct advantages of engaging into a new trading arrangement with the Commonwealth for Britain and its business sector, is the certainty which common-law jurisdictions based on English law principles brings. As compared to the EU project with their members namely based on civil law (versus common-law), parties trading in the Commonwealth, are guaranteed a level of similar jurisprudence in key English law commercial/business concepts. In the inevitable event of day to day contractual and other business disputes which come before the courts, parties may be more at ease in ensuring their interests are settled in a system with a strong historical link and similarity. In the ever growing field of dispute resolution –which serves as an alternative to the highly contentious litigation process– many emerging and developed economies are contracting parties to The Convention on the Recognition and Enforcement of Foreign Arbitral Awards (The New York Convention). This convention serves as a mechanism in ensuring that awards in foreign arbitration are enforced, so as ensuring parties are compelled in honouring the decision of the arbitration process. Due consideration may need to be given to a model of governance for the enforcement of the provisions of the trading bloc in a centralised location. This body should draw from the skills and expertise of a wide cross section: the best in both legal and economic minds that exist in the Commonwealth.

It has been widely seen and accepted that greater access to cheaper goods and services– not only lends to competition and ultimately benefits to the domestic consumers of such goods– but allows for otherwise weak economies to use new modes of technologies to build out their economic capacities. It is for this reason that young entrepreneurs across the UK, who may find great value in tapping into the rich cultural markets in the Caribbean and Africa for example, a Commonwealth trading arrangement would make for the cross border transactions benefiting for both the UK and the host markets where they trade. Local communities can enjoy the benefit of receiving new levels of efficiencies associated with high-end valued goods at a cheaper rate, whilst the producers of these goods yield greater profits. Outside of the hard numbers of profit which trade ultimately is underscored by, such an agreement should thus be underscored by the Commonwealth’s ideals which address the issues of economic inequality and the promotion of institutional co-operation-to name a few.

This discussion is perhaps quite timely, as the biennial Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) will be taking place in the autumn of 2015 in Malta. This will be preceded by one of four key parallel events, namely; The Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF), which invariably feeds into the Heads of Government’s deliberations. It must be noted that already the UK has a number of bilateral trade and double taxation agreements (respectively) in place with individual Commonwealth nations. However, creating a trade bloc with the 54 member grouping, allows for an even market for British goods and services  to gain access without restrictions that have hitherto existed.

The Commonwealth therefore presents an opportunity for the UK to strengthen its position as a major global trading nation, by guaranteeing that the long envied and much revered British global competitiveness it now enjoys, remains in both the medium and long terms respectively.


Chad Blackman is President of The European Law Students Association (ELSA) UK office. He is also Chairman of the Commonwealth Student’s Association Legal Advice Initiative. He has served as Former Youth Development Consultant at the Commonwealth Secretariat and as former Ambassador for Youth of Barbados to the United Nations.  

Follow Chad on Twitter: @BajanDiplomat

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