Commonwealth Secretary-General eyes post-Brexit trade opportunities

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The Secretary-General of the Commonwealth has said the institution is looking for “opportunities” from Brexit and highlighted how trade between member states could be worth a trillion dollars.

Speaking ahead of a major gathering of Commonwealth leaders in London next month, Baroness Scotland sounded upbeat about the possibilities offered by the family of nations and how people “have forgotten how wonderful it can be”.

But she sidestepped questions about the future involvement of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in the institution, following reports the royals may have a role with its youth work.

Meghan Markle and Prince Harry at this week's Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey (Joe Giddens/PA)
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry at this week’s Commonwealth Service at Westminster Abbey (Joe Giddens/PA)

Baroness Scotland told a press briefing at London’s Marlborough House, home of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the institution’s civil service:  “Well as you know we’ve issued a number of documents about Brexit, looking at the analysis, looking at the impact it had on our member states and also looking at the opportunities to come out of it.”

She added: “We are looking for the opportunities, accepting this is where we are. So now where do we go together, how can we go faster?

“I think one of the real issues is we’ve got the potential for having about 1 trillion dollars (£716 billion) worth of business in the Commonwealth.”

A Commonwealth Trade Review published before the EU referendum found business dealings between member countries was on average 19% cheaper, because of factors like a shared language and similar legal systems, than between a non-Commonwealth country and a member state.

Baroness Scotland added: “We haven’t historically concentrated sufficiently on developing intra-Commonwealth trade and the identification in 2015 that there was this 19% advantage that was laying dormant was a real wake-up call.”

She added: “Some people have said we’re turning the Commonwealth Secretariat into because we’re working out which countries perhaps have huge opportunities to work with other countries that they haven’t identified, and we’ll introduce them and are making those connections.”

The Secretary-General went on to say about the Commonwealth: “People have forgotten how wonderful it can be, and they are re-awakening as people see the real value of coming together in partnership, in friendship and working together.”

CHOGM will be staged from April 16-20, with forum discussions on the issues of women, youth, people and business held over three days before the two-day meeting of the world leaders begins.

The topic of women was first debated in the forum setting at the last Commonwealth summit staged in Malta in 2015, and this time it will have the theme ‘An empowered future for women and girls’.

Gender adviser Kemi Ogunsanya told the briefing: “The main objective of the forum is to ensure the issue of women and girls remains high on the agenda of the heads of government.”

She added that female genital mutilation – an issue for a number of the Commonwealth’s 53 member states – was one of the topics which would be discussed.

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