(Adds minister Ellwood)
By Kylie MacLellan
LONDON Feb 23 Britain must treat the
Commonwealth with humility if it is to make the most of the
opportunity to boost post-Brexit trade, the head of a
Commonwealth business organisation said ahead of a trade meeting
next month with many former British colonies.
Supporters of Britain's exit from the European Union have
said loosening ties with Brussels will provide an opportunity to
reinvigorate relationships with the 52-nation, 2.4
billion-citizen Commonwealth, with its ties of history, culture
New Zealand and Australia were among the first to express a
desire for a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain. But some
resentment still lingers over how ties were cut when Britain
joined the EU's predecessor, the Common Market, in 1973.
Widely conisdered a betrayal at the time, it upended decades
of tradition and a host of tariff agreements and Australia was
one of the hardest hit countries.
"The Commonwealth is a natural ally if Britain approaches it
with a degree of humility - it could be a great opportunity if
managed properly," said Jonathan Marland, chairman of the
Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and a
former British trade envoy.
"(Britain) will now need to set about rebuilding these
relationships for trade," he told Reuters.
After last year's vote to leave the EU, the government is
trying to balance Britain's future relationship with the bloc
with its desire to forge new trading links around the world.
The CWEIC, which seeks to promote trade and investment, has
organised the first ever meeting of Commonwealth trade ministers
in London next month, with 30 set to attend alongside business
Official data shows the Commonwealth accounted for 47.8
billion pounds of British exports in 2014 compared to almost 230
billion pounds for the EU.
Earlier this week, British Foreign Office minister Tobias
Ellwood said Commonwealth trade was due to surpass $1 trillion
by 2020, with intra-Commonwealth trade estimated to be 20
percent cheaper due to common legal systems and language.
Marland did not think the idea of a Commonwealth-wide free
trade agreement was realistic, but hoped ministers could agree
to seek a "Commonwealth Trade and Enterprise Accord" setting out
common standards countries could sign up to in order to boost
"We mustn't kid ourselves - it's not about the Commonwealth
replacing the UK’s relationship with Europe but rather about
maximising trade opportunities globally," he said.
(Additional reporting by William James; Editing by Stephen