Commonwealth Secretariat and Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council jointly organised a two-day long Commonwealth Trade Ministers’ meeting in London, UK from 9-10 March 2017. The meeting was attended by 37 Commonwealth Trade Ministers, delegates and business organisations of the Commonwealth member countries.
A three member Bangladesh delegation headed by HE Mr. Tofail Ahmed, Hon’ble Commerce Minister of Bangladesh attended the meeting. The other two delegations include HE Mr. Nazmul Quaunine, High Commissioner and Mrs Sharifa Khan, Commercial Counsellor of Bangladesh High Commission, London.
At the inauguration session of the meeting on 9 March, Lord Marland, Chairman of Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council welcome the delegates and mentioned that free trade is important for enhancing export, creating new job opportunities and alleviating poverty. Commonwealth countries may play a critical role in enhancing the intra-member countries’ trade and help attaining SDGs.
Rt Hon Lain Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, UK said that with a population of 2.3 billion, a combined economy of more than US$10 trillion and annual GDP growth in excess of 4%, the Commonwealth has a huge opportunity to help member countries to face upcoming global economic challenges.
He however, expressed his concerns for growing protectionism and emphasised that protectionism distorts trade, increase the cost of business and encourage inefficiency.
He also mentioned that 52 members of the Commonwealth Countries has remarkable advantages than any other economic block as 60% of their population is below 30 years, they speak in common language, but also have diverse cultures and heritages which creates avenues to learn from each other.
Ms Arancha Gonzalez, Executive Director, International Trade Centre emphasised that trade must be people oriented and support upliftment of the status of poor people across the world.
She also mentioned that WTO Trade Facilitations Agreement has recently been come into force. Unfortunately, 18 Commonwealth Member countries did not yet ratify this agreement. They should be provided necessary technical and financial supports to ratify and implement the agreement.
During this event, six roundtables and three specific meetings were organised. The roundtables on the first day covers financial service, ease of doing business, technology and innovation, business and sustainability, creating an export economy and attracting investment while the second day meeting highlighted harnessing the Commonwealth advantage in a changing global trade landscape, leveraging opportunities and addressing challenges to intra-Commonwealth trade & investment and preparation of CHOGM (Commonwealth Heads of Governments meeting) 2018.
Hon’ble Commerce Minister of Bangladesh was one of the main speakers for roundtables on technology and innovation and creating an export economy.
He said that technology and innovation is extremely for a densely-populated country like Bangladesh. We have demonstrated remarkable success in feeding 163 million people living within 147,610 square kilometres (56,990 sq mi) by using improve agricultural technology.
IT is another notable sector which does not only create new jobs for our young professionals, but also helping us to bring transparency and improve efficiency both in the public and private sector.
He said that development of SMEs and diversification of products and markets are extremely essential in surviving a globalised economy, but preferential market access is more important particularly, for the LDCs.
He emphasised that duty free and quota-free market access for the LDCs is in the WTO agenda since Singapore Ministerial Conference in 1996, still a good number of developed countries are reluctant in granting DFQF access to all LDCs.
He however, express his heartfelt gratitude to the European Union for granting duty-free market access to the LDCs under the EBA (Everything but Arms) initiatives and also thanks to other countries who also extend similar facilities to the LDCs.
He also mentioned that Bangladesh demonstrated remarkable success in taking advantage of DFQF facilities in European market.
Since the Parliament session is running in Bangladesh, Hon’ble Commerce Minister had to left the UK on 10 March 2017, HE Mr. Nazmul Quaunine then represented Bangladesh on that day.
The meeting finally concluded by urging the members to submit proposals to the Commonwealth Secretariat on the following issues with the aim of improving intra-commonwealth trade so that these could be placed at the CHOGM 2018. The proposals will cover the following issues:
1. Diversification of both product and markets;
2. Development of value chain and addressing supply side constraints;
3. Introducing new market opportunities;
4. Access to digital economy and promotion of e-commerce.
5. Development of SMEs;
6. Innovation and technology;
7. Access to finance for business;
8. Creating enabling business environment;
9. Streamlining trade regulatory framework;
10. Infrastructure development such as modernization of customs, ports and transport system for facilitating trade.
11. Support for implementation of the WTO trade facilitation agreement
12. Arrangements of Commonwealth trade ministers meeting on regular intervals;
13. Funding of the Commonwealth Secretariat to extend necessary support to the LDCs.
During the event, Hon’ble Commerce Minister attended bi-lateral meetings with Secretary General of Commonwealth Secretariat, Chairperson of Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council and trade Ministers of Ghana, India, Sri-Lanka, Trinidad & Tobago and Bahama.
– Press Release, Bangladesh High Commision London