Today we celebrate a unique global organisation that unites countries from across the world to encourage social and economic development.
I am referring, of course, to the Commonwealth.
The Commonwealth of Nations is a collection of 52 member states united by the shared values of democracy, free speech, human rights, and the rule of law, and as we move closer to the triggering of Article 50 and our departure from the European Union, it is only right that we look to strengthen the economic ties that bind these states together.
While we will certainly be looking to maintain and grow our business links with Europe, we now have the opportunity to expand our business ties with the world.
The Commonwealth has a population in excess of 2.3bn people spread across all of the world’s inhabited continents. It is worth noting, however, that despite being home to nearly a third of the world’s population, the countries in the Commonwealth only account for 14 per cent of the world’s GDP.
This presents a huge opportunity for the City and the UK.
Countries that will power global growth in the coming decades – such as Pakistan, Malaysia, India, and Nigeria – are all member states keen to work with the City, the world’s leading financial centre, to drive this growth into the next phase.
We already have strong bilateral economic relationships with many Commonwealth countries. Indeed the UK is the largest export destination in the EU for goods from Australia, Canada, India, New Zealand, South Africa, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Jamaica. But there is so much more we can do to cement our trading relationships around the world.
Following the referendum vote last June, Australia was one of the first countries to say publicly that it would be keen to have a free trade agreement between our two countries in place as soon as possible after we leave the EU.
While we may not be able to directly negotiate with countries such as Australia while we are in the EU, the strength of the political will to find a mutually beneficial agreement on trade is heartening and makes me optimistic for the UK’s future growth. This sentiment has been echoed strongly in many of the countries I have visited.
While it is right that we recognise that our relationships within the Commonwealth have not always been easy, I know there is a strong universal desire to develop Commonwealth trade.
We can and should do more. In 2013, intra-Commonwealth trade in goods and services stood at nearly $600bn. It has grown at almost 10 per cent a year since 1995. The aspiration is to hit $1 trillion in trade by 2020.
London is the hub of the Commonwealth, putting us in prime position to spread the City’s world-leading skills in financial and professional services to the rest of the bloc. With London’s support I hope to see a new era of strong international growth based on cooperation between our family states of the Commonwealth.