22 February 2017
Vara highlights opportunities for trade with all Commonwealth partners, large and small

Vara calls on the Government to make a powerful statement that we are interested in trading with all our Commonwealth partners at the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting next month.

Mr Shailesh Vara (North West Cambridgeshire) (Con)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, as always, Mr Davies. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) on securing this important debate. To the extent that it is relevant, I declare that I am co-chairman of the Conservative Friends of India group.

Our existing trade with the Commonwealth is not insignificant. In 2015, our exports to the Commonwealth totalled £47.4 billion, and our imports from the Commonwealth totalled £45.5 billion. The Commonwealth is comprised of 53 member states, representing a quarter of the world’s landmass and 2.2 billion people. Some 60% of the Commonwealth’s population is under the age of 30. There can be no doubt about the massive opportunities that lie ahead for our country. Forecasts by PwC suggest that India will be the world’s third largest economy in 2030, behind China and the USA. That is hardly surprising—according to the most recent United Nations global population estimates in 2015, people aged under 35 comprised 64% of the population of India.

Some say we should concentrate on only a handful of Commonwealth countries. UK trade is heavily focused on a small number of countries. For example, in 2015, Australia, Canada, India, Singapore and South Africa accounted for 70% of UK exports to Commonwealth countries and 65% of UK imports from the Commonwealth countries. It is important to remember that, as members of the European Union, we did not simply concentrate our efforts on Germany, France and Italy, but also made efforts with the smaller nations. Likewise, it is important that we do not just concentrate on the larger nations of the Commonwealth, big though they may be.

Oliver Colvile

Will my hon. Friend consider that America could be invited to join the Commonwealth, thereby allowing for a trade deal to be done much more simply, as with other Commonwealth countries?

Mr Vara

My hon. Friend makes a valid point, but I hope he will appreciate that it is not for us to invite countries to join the Commonwealth.

We are equal partners, and it is important to remember that, in the Commonwealth, we should not pick favourites. We should give the smaller nations equal treatment, particularly given that our aim is to increase trade. There is the potential to increase trade with those smaller countries, too. I will not abuse the extra minute I have received by virtue of that intervention and will make hasty progress.

Britain remains a popular destination for Commonwealth citizens, both for business and non-business purposes. It is right and proper that the Government take seriously the suggestion of my hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen on making things easier at our airports. It would send a powerful message to the rest of our Commonwealth partners. Next month’s Trade Ministers meeting seems an appropriate place. I hope the Minister will not say that it is logistically not possible because we are only days away from the meeting. It is perfectly feasible to make the announcement at the Ministers meeting and say it will take effect in three months, six months or whenever we have gone through the logistical procedures.

The Prime Minister has said that we want to build a

“truly global Britain… one of the firmest advocates for free trade anywhere in the world.”

At the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting next month, we have the perfect opportunity to make a powerful statement to our Commonwealth partners by doing just that.

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