Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : March 23rd 2017 Contents MARCH 23 • 2017 guardian.co.tt BUSINESS GUARDIAN
COMMENTARY | BG21
Free Trade Area
(FTA) would go
down in India
"like a lead bal-
That's the opinion of Indian
Member of Parliament, Shashi
Tharoor, as British Ministers and
Empire-dreamers run around Brit-
ain trying to promote the idea that
a Commonwealth FTA is a viable
alternative to trade with the Eu-
ropean Union (EU) which Britain
has elected to exit.
A harsher view is expressed by
columnist with the British Guard-
ian Newspaper, Kehinde Andrews,
"Rather than accept reality the
(British) government has deluded
itself into thinking that Britain can
just install an update for empire
and return to former glories on the
world stage. But outside the EU and
devoid of colonies, Britain will find
that any nostalgic visions of empire
are a mirage, providing nothing to
The British advocates of the
Commonwealth FTA do not help
their own desperate scramble for a
Commonwealth FTA by describing
it as "Empire 2.0"
The phrase lacks any semblance
of sensitivity to the dark history of
Britain's imperial rule over Com-
monwealth countries; a rule that
not only raped their resources to
make Britain rich, but also ex-
ploited and brutalised their native
Shashi Tharoor, who is a former
Indian Minister of State, recalls
that: "There's no real awareness
of the atrocities, of the fact that
Britain financed its Industri-
al Revolution and its prosperity
from the depredations of empire,
the fact that Britain came to one of
the richest countries in the world
(India) in the 18th century and reduced
it, after two centuries of plunder, to one
of the poorest."
Kehinde Andrews, speaking of the
African experience, says: "Nations
no longer ruled by force and fear will
not supplicate themselves to Britain
because of misty memories of empire".
And, he adds, "In order to build a
prosperous future Britain needs to
understand its place in the world; a
small island desperately reaching out
to countries it formerly ruled in or-
der to try to maintain its relevance.
No doubt the former colonies will be
willing to trade with Britain. But the
idea that these relations will represent
anything like those in empire is laugh-
Even as British government ministers
are beating the drum of a new Com-
monwealth Empire for trade, Britain is
threatened to become smaller than it is
as the leader of the Scottish National
Party, Nicola Sturgeon, declares that
she will seek a second referendum to
make Scotland an independent nation.
When the British Prime Minister,
Theresa May, indicated that she might
block a second referendum, the debate
became nasty with Sturgeon asserting
that she "was elected" as First Minister
of Scotland "on a clear commitment
manifesto" while May "is not elected
The frenzied effort in Britain to talk-
up the Commonwealth as a FTA is an
illusionary attempt to allay fears that
Britain will have what is described as
a 'hard BREXIT' and, therefore, will
be left without favourable terms of
trade in the EU or any other market.
The Commonwealth is being touted as
the replacement for EU trade.
But the reality is that the Common-
wealth cannot replace the EU for Britain
which sells far more goods and services
to the 27 members of the EU than it does
to the 51 nations of the Commonwealth.
In 2015, 44 per cent of total UK exports
of goods and services went to the EU;
conversely just 9.5 per cent went to the
As for the other members of the
Commonwealth, particularly its
smaller members in Africa, the Car-
ibbean and the Pacific, there would be
no benefit in a Commonwealth FTA.
Six Commonwealth countries domi-
nate exports to other Commonwealth
They are: Singapore 26 per cent, In-
dia 20.37 per cent, Malaysia 26.14 per
cent, Australia 10.9 per cent, Britain
9.5 per cent and Canada 6.7 per cent.
The other 45 countries between them
account for the remaining 16 per cent
and they include big countries like
Nigeria, South Africa, and Kenya in
Africa, and Pakistan, Bangladesh and
Sri Lanka in Asia. The small countries
of the Caribbean and the Pacific ac-
count for less than five per cent of all
The Commonwealth ceased being a
trading bloc when Britain opted to join
the EU in 1973.
Over the four decades since then,
Commonwealth countries have de-
veloped trade links with other nations
and regions that are now vital to them.
Australia's biggest trading partner, for
instance, is China; followed by the US
and Japan; Canada's are the United
States and Mexico.
For the majority of Caribbean coun-
tries, the US is their biggest trading
partner. None of these countries will
unravel these vital trading links for the
benefit of Britain.
Sure, Caribbean countries would
want to maintain their level of exports
to Britain, but those exports are small in
relation to their imports from the UK.
In this connection, a FTA with Brit-
ain would hardly suit the Caribbean.
Some compensatory mechanism would
be necessary, and that means an aid an
investment component that Britain
(if it is Britain and not England and
Wales) might not be able to deliver,
given the demands on its resources in
a post-Brexit world.
The Commonwealth has stayed away
from trade matters ever since Britain
joined the EU.
In fact, the British never wanted a
Commonwealth trade ministers meet-
ing because it was felt that Common-
wealth demands would interfere with
its common purpose with the EU, and
with the big power alliances that the
EU had formed with, for instance, the
US over subsidised agriculture which
disadvantaged African and Asian ag-
ricultural exports on the world market.
When a former Secretary-Gener-
al, Don McKinnon, tried to organise
a working lunch of Commonwealth
Trade Ministers in Mexico in 2003 in
the margins of a World Trade Organi-
sation Ministerial meeting, few Com-
monwealth trade ministers turned-up.
That included the British trade min-
The Commonwealth has the capac-
ity to be many things, among them: a
forum for showing the world how re-
ligious and ethnic tolerance could be
achieved; for bridging divides between
developed and developing nations to
help construct pathways to a prosper-
ous and peaceful world; for champi-
oning global causes such as climate
change; and for advancing the devel-
opment interests of the majority of its
states which are small and vulnerable.
But, a trade bloc it is not; and never will
be, however much it is the straw man
that British Brexiteers are conjuring.
(The writer is Antigua and Barbuda's
Ambassador to the United States
and the Organisation of American
States. He is also a Senior Fellow at the
Institute of Commonwealth Studies,
University of London and Massey
College in the University of Toronto.
The views expressed are his own)
free trade: A
British straw man?
Links Archive March 22nd 2017 March 24th 2017 Navigation Previous Page Next Page