The idea that by joining the EU we abandoned the Commonwealth Nations is not a new one. In 1975, when we last voted on membership, it was thought to be enough of an issue to be addressed in the leaflet sent to each household:
In 1975 the government of Australia was clear and things have not changed, in a recent interview in The Telegraph the ex deputy prime minister had this to say:
“International companies from outside the EU – from, say, the US, Japan and, indeed, Australia – base themselves in the UK in no small part so they can access the wider European market. The single market is especially beneficial for your vibrant and world-beating financial services industry, which benefits from having all of Europe as its home market instead of just Britain. I can see no good reason why the UK would want to give up such a beneficial economic relationship with its nearest and largest trading partners – nor am I clear what you would replace it with”
It seems clear that the views of one of the wealthiest Commonwealth Nations have not changed.
So where does this idea of Commonwealth reconnect come from. It’s certainly not a new idea, those like Rory Broomfield, who is a director at the think tank The Freedom Association and of Better off Out, have been pushing this view for some time: (it is worth remembering that The Freedom Association has as its aim the deregulation of the labour market)
The book that was written to help promote this view is sadly no longer available from the links found here but can be found as a kindle edition on Amazon. What it has at its heart is the rather paternalistic view that the Commonwealth Nations want trade with the UK at all costs and are prepared to enter a free trade agreement with us.
It also has a belief that a trading block can be formed that would either replace lost trade with the EU and, or, would allow us to make trade deals that would increase our trade with these nations. Something they claim we can not do whilst still a member of the EU.
Let’s address these separately:
The claim made by many a kipper and brexiter is that the Commonwealth at over 2 billion people with a GDP fast approaching that of the 550 million people of the EU, is a better long term trading partner that the EU. They will make grandiose statements about growth rates across the Commonwealth and expect you to be bowled over by the wealth of trading opportunities.
What are the realities?
I am a geographer and a teacher so I like maps and I like to think out side of the box. The reality is that much of the commonwealth, has not yet reached the toothbrush for each family member stage of development, this article from Anna Rosling-Rönnlund will explain. Or as Hans Rosling would put it, they are not yet in the washing machine economy. If the vast majority can not afford a toothbrush , its laughable to assume they will be buying financial services products.
How about the maps?
The data for GDP Per capita is easy to find, you can use PPP data to make it fairer and I have, a simple on-line map maker and you can produce a map that can be downloaded for use on a blog.
You can find the online version here (it does not work well on tablets and phones):
This map clearly shows that we have a problem if we want to trade with the Commonwealth our goods and services services are simply too expensive for the vast majority of those living in countries with a GNP per capita of less than $6000 per annum. If you need more help in understanding try this, gap minder and Dollar Street .
Income is not the only consideration, a small or medium sized company doing trade in the EU is protected by a plethora of regulations and can be assured that the cost of doing business is not increased by corrupt practices:
All those countries that are pink and yellow have a lamentable record of corruption and governance, more details can be found at Transparency `International
There are those who strongly advocate a Commonwealth Reconnect but the reality is that there are many divisions within the Commonwealth and a real problem with the emerging countries in the Commonwealth being considerably less open to trade then we would want as well as less keen on democracy, some of the opposing views are discussed here. The conclusions reached are clear, in reality most of the Commonwealth shares little with the UK.
The problem goes still wider. Look at the voting records of the United Nations Security Council, or the UN’s grisly sub-committees on human rights, and compare Britain’s votes with (a) votes of other EU members and (b) votes of other Commonwealth members. Whether Eurosceptics like it or not, Britain is far closer to (a) than (b). Many Commonwealth members are far removed from Britain’s way of seeing the world, aligning themselves firmly with the “south” in an inchoate “north-south” stand-off. The EU may not have played a blamless role in the decade-long misery that is the latest round of talks at the World Trade Organisation. But in truth, one of the biggest obstacles to a deal for a long time has been India, a Commonwealth giant that is far from a reliable ally on free trade and market-opening.
While I am being difficult, I would leave readers with data from the latest Chatham House YouGov polling for 2011, which asked British voters to rank foreign countries in terms of favourability and unfavourability. True, Commonwealth stalwarts Australia, Canada and New Zealand take the top three favourability slots for non-European nations, with only America coming anywhere close.
But the same British respondents are strikingly hostile to the other Commonwealth nations on the list, such as India, South Africa (6% approval apiece) and above all Pakistan (1%), which comes bottom of the table, just above North Korea. It would be depressing if at least some British public support for the “Commonwealth” meant nothing more than liking unthreatening, English-speaking western countries that look rather like us. (The Economist 2011)
With many UKIP supporters deeply distrustful of Muslims countries you can safely assume that they see the Commonwealth as a handful of countries which closely share our culture and religion – the rest of the Commonwealth being full of those who they are more likely to call “swarms” than trade with.
Do the Commonwealth Nations want our Trade?
This question assumes we don’t trade with the Commonwealth so consider these facts:
- UK’s exports to Commonwealth countries have been increasing at over 10% a year
- The increases (over two years) of 33% to India, 31% to South Africa, 30% to Australia and 18% to Canada. In fact
- Since 2004, British exports to India are up 143%
- EU already has agreed trade deals with 64% of Commonwealth countries, and is negotiating with another 26%
If we lost 10% of our trade with the EU we would need to increase our trade with the Commonwealth by 40%. Since most of the trade between the EU and the Commonwealth will be covered by FTAs by the time of BREXIT, and with the UK starting from scratch with negotiations, one can rightly wonder how likely that it! More facts of the sort BREXIT run away from can be found in this article by Steve Peers .
Both UKIP and Brexit Tories share the belief that the Commonwealth Reconnect can be flogged to the public as an alternative to aid for developing counties. Its worth noting that the developing nations have made huge improvements in education and health outcomes and in GDP per capita and much of this is down to targeted aid. The UN has a 15 year plan to help the last stubborn few up out of absolute poverty. Trade with the UK is not going to help them achieve this. Indeed this is where I and the EU fall out as for me inter African trade is far more important than the EU encouraging trade between African and the EU. The bulk of the region’s trade is with Europe and America: only 12% is with other African countries, according to research by Ecobank, a Togo-based bank. By comparison 60% of Europe’s trade is with its own continent. The same is true in Asia. In North America the figure is 40%. Whilst the African Union is busy creating a Continental Free Trade Area , recognising that their ability to develop lies in unity and improving that 12%, we are busy trying to exit the EU.