Doing Business with the Commonwealth – It’s a Family Thing
In academic circles the trading relationship between the UK and the Commonwealth has been deemed “unnatural”. A well-established theory called the Gravity Model cites that the trade between two countries is proportional to each other’s Gross National Product and inversely proportional to the distance between them. Countries choose larger countries to trade with due to the greater variety of goods and services to be exported and imported. Close proximity means low transport costs, short delivery time and thus, hopefully, quicker payment.
Apart from Malta and Cyprus, also members of the EU27, why then, in an increasingly interconnected world, should UK businesses look to Commonwealth member states, varying in size, economic development and distance from the UK, as “natural” trading partners? Here are 4 reasons on why and how to engage with your Commonwealth Family.
1. A Commonwealth of Interests
There are 54 Commonwealth member states with a combined population of 2.4 billion - approximately 30% of the world’s population. Spread across every continent and ocean in the world Commonwealth membership reflects many religions, races, languages and cultures. The majority of countries have historic colonial or constitutional links with the UK. Some, however, do not, for example Rwanda who became the 54th member in 2009 and is the 2021 host for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.
Becoming a member can thus not only enhance a country’s profile and trading relations, but also enable access to a wealth of intergovernmental, civil, cultural and professional organisations all helping to strengthen shared goals like development, democracy and peace. Also, unlike many trading blocs the Commonwealth is a free association of member states who have chosen to maintain ties of friendship and practical cooperation, a Commonwealth Family if you like.
2. A Variety of Strengths and Sizes
As well as the geographical diversity, Commonwealth countries are amongst the world’s biggest, smallest, richest and poorest. Regardless of size or wealth all members have an equal voice in shaping the Commonwealth. Canada is the largest by size, though India has the largest population. Nauru is the smallest by size and Tuvalu by population. The larger markets are naturally the ones that receive most focus for trade opportunities but for businesses with niche offerings never overlook the smaller countries.
Tuvalu, a cash-based economy mainly reliant on imports, recently underwent a UN eTrade Readiness Assessment. Whilst e-commerce is predominantly used in the hospitality sector, the country recognises e-commerce as a priority with potential for uptake in other sectors, such as retail, services and handicrafts. Focus is therefore needed on ICT infrastructure and services, trade logistics, payment solutions, legal frameworks for online activities, e-commerce skills facilitation and access to finance for micro, small and medium sized businesses. Enhancing digital technology will also help Tuvalu manage the risks of climate change and other environmental threats.
3. Beyond Good Business
Whilst the Commonwealth Secretariat works all over the Commonwealth to boost trade and the economy there are plenty of other ways for businesses to seek out opportunities and get involved. There are programmes to help protect country environments and use their natural resources sustainably; to improve the chances of the Commonwealth's young people; to champion small and vulnerable states and the unique development challenges they face; to promote democracy, good governance, peace and the rule of law.
Have a look at the 2017 – 2021 Strategic Plan to see where your interests and expertise lie then join the conversation.
4. Dynamic Diaspora and Local Commonwealth Associations
With 54 member countries there is a large proportion of intra-Commonwealth migration. In addition to any transfer of remittances back to families there continues to be an interest within diaspora communities in supporting the development of their “country of origin”. This could be via direct investment or just simply via facilitating partnerships. Connecting with the local diaspora from a particular country of interest can be an excellent way to find out about business, culture, challenges or even projects they are working on, as well as to gain access to relevant in-country contacts.
Organisations such as the Cheshire Commonwealth Association are designed to help strengthen the connections between the Commonwealth diaspora within Cheshire & Warrington as well as help local businesses access opportunities across the Commonwealth.
So, whilst all good exporting businesses should follow sound market research and market selection principles, why not indulge some of your Family members and see whether you can defy gravity!
 United Nations Conference on Trade & Development (2019) Tuvalu: Rapid eTrade Readiness Assessment: https://unctad.org/system/files/official-document/dtlstict2019d13_en.pdf
 From the Greek word meaning 'to scatter,' a community of people who do not live in their country of origin, but maintain their heritage in a new land.