Africa: Commonwealth Trade Ministers Commit to Free Trade

12 October 2019

Trade ministers from across member states of the Commonwealth on Thursday committed to resist protectionism and work urgently together towards reforming the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in an effort to break all barriers to free trade.

WTO is the intergovernmental organisation concerned with the regulation of international trade.

This is highlighted in a communiqué following a meeting in London where ministers from the 53 Commonwealth member countries reaffirmed their commitment to free trade in a transparent, inclusive, fair, and open rules-based multilateral trading system with the WTO as its core institution.

They were particularly concerned about the risks of protectionism and unilateralism to the global economy and underlined the importance of resisting all forms of protectionism including the WTO's inconsistent measures that threaten the rules-based trading system.

The Chair of the meeting, UK Secretary of State for International Trade and President of the Board of Trade, Liz Truss, said the UK along with its

Commonwealth partners have set out its commitment to fight against protectionism.

Truss said: "We must work together to promote free trade and reform the multilateral system to make sure it works for every nation, small or large. Trade has the power to drive growth, jobs and opportunities - it is an essential tool in the fight against extreme poverty and insecurity.

"By sharing experience across the diverse Commonwealth community, we can help to break down existing barriers to trade which currently prevent businesses in all our countries from trading successfully."

Free trade in a transparent, inclusive, fair, and open rules-based multilateral trading system which takes into account, among others, the concerns of developing countries and the special circumstances of the developing and the least developed countries and small and vulnerable economies, is what is desired.

"The Ministers noted the efforts that are being undertaken to reform and modernise the WTO, recognising the importance of strengthening and reforming the organization to improve its functioning so as to promote inclusive and sustainable growth and development," reads part of their statement.

"Ministers urged that any reform in the WTO should take into account the views of all members. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to work constructively together and with other WTO Members on the necessary reform of the organisation with a sense of urgency, including in the lead up to the 12th WTO Ministerial Conference."

Digital transformation

According to the communiqué, the ministers emphasised that as commonwealth countries individually address traditional trade policy challenges, they must also prepare their national economies for the Fourth Industrial Revolution that will present new opportunities for, and challenges to, prosperity.

In that regard, they appreciated the work underway among interested members in the Digital Connectivity Cluster which is focused on supporting inclusive digital transformation across the Commonwealth.

Soraya Hakuziyaremye, the Minister for Trade and Industry, attended the meeting and in a tweet, she said: "Progress made on the connectivity clusters, especially digital transformation as an enabler to increased and inclusive intra-Commonwealth trade. Support to women in MSMEs will also be key."

Among others, the ministers underscored the importance of Smart agriculture and Smart fisheries to the Commonwealth, particularly the role they play in rural job creation.

Recognising the importance of trade for sustainable economic growth, and with a view to deepening cooperation in the areas including trade and climate change, and digital transformation, the ministers recommend that Commonwealth Heads of Government reflect on these issues when they meet in Kigali for the 2020 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, next year.

The ministers endorsed an action plan designed to boost trade among their countries to at least $2 trillion by 2030.

Intra-Commonwealth trade is projected to reach $700 billion by next year.

Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland said: "The multilateral trading system is the only way for our countries, as diverse as they are, to trade in a predictable, stable, transparent and fair environment.

"While the global trading system may be far from perfect, it is the surest pathway towards eradicating poverty."

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