Keen to revitalise links with the Commonwealth after Brexit, International Trade secretary Liam Fox on Thursday highlighted India’s growing economy and told the first ever meeting of trade ministers of the 52-member group that free trade was the future.
A leading Brexiteer, Fox, one of the key ministers responsible for negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU – including the European Single Market – noted latest IMF forecast that India is one of the few countries whose goods and services are likely to grow the fastest in the next five years.
India is represented at the two-day meeting by Commerce secretary Rita A. Teotia, who highlighted the steps taken as part of the Narendra Modi government’s ‘ease of doing business’ initiative, and on creating an export-oriented economy. India is the largest country in the Commonwealth that has a combined population of 2.4 billion.
Fox said: “(The Commonwealth) Secretariat has organised a summit next month, designed to help developing Commonwealth nations benefit from India’s global value chains, tapping into the diversification of their export markets and improvements to their supply chain capacity”.
According to the secretariat, there is a distinct ‘Commonwealth advantage’ characterised by shared values, a common language, familiar institutions and similar legal and regulatory systems: “This makes two Commonwealth countries trade on an average 19 to 20 per cent more with each other as compared to their non-Commonwealth partners”.
Fox added: “I have long believed that free trade is one of the most powerful tools we have to help those in greatest need around the world. As we establish our own position after we leave the European Union, Britain will proudly carry the standard of free and open trade as a badge of honour”.
Insisting that Brexit did not mean Britain was turning protectionist, Fox said: “Protectionism can be a seductive but a false friend. I have described it as the class A drug of the trading world – it can make you feel good at first but you will pay a terrible price in the long term”.
Finance minister Arun Jaitley said during his recent visit to London that British ministers had repeatedly conveyed the non-protectionist message, but formal talks on entering into a free trade agreement could only begin when Britain leaves the EU, expected in 2019.
A group of Conservative MPs have demanded that Britain signal a more relaxed approach to visitors and migrants from India and the Commonwealth. The MPs are due to meet the immigration minister to open separate, fast-track visa service at UK ports for Commonwealth citizens.