The Commonwealth is on course to meet its goal of US$2tn in trade among member countries by 2030, with digital trade projected to substantially drive growth, the Commonwealth secretary-general Patricia Scotland has said.

Speaking to GTR at the Commonwealth trade ministers meeting (CTMM) at Marlborough House in London on June 5, Scotland said she was confident the goal would be reached on time and speculated that it could potentially be exceeded.

“We think our overall trade should be at US$2tn by 2030. The reason we are still fairly confident that it will stay at least at that is because of the movement we’ve seen,” she said.

“We’ve got the World Trade Organization trade facilitation agreement and the African Continental Free Trade Area agreement, and then the push that’s going to come from digital trade,” she said.

Previous research produced by the Commonwealth secretariat has estimated that trade digitalisation could boost exports by as much as US$1.2tn in coming years as the cost of trade falls and access to finance is increased.

“Progress has definitely been made, and we are all committed to doing everything we can to deliver that US$2tn. We are on track and the Commonwealth as a family is absolutely determined,” Scotland said.

“My own view is I’ll probably eat my hat if we don’t get to US$2tn,” she said, adding that action was also needed “because we have no choice. It’s a bit sink or swim, and we’re for swimming.”

The meeting marked the first time the group had met in person since 2019.

Though the Commonwealth is a voluntary association, not a trading bloc, and was originally founded as a group of former British colonies, the 56 member countries generally share some similarities in legal systems and language.

The UK trade minister, Nigel Huddleston, also spoke to GTR about the “mutually beneficial opportunities” offered by digitisation for hitting the US$2tn goal, particularly around simplifying processes and saving time by “enabling electronic rather than wet signatures” or allowing customs declarations to be made electronically rather than requiring hard copies.

Huddleston said that plans were underway to set up a working group to produce specific proposals around intra-Commonwealth investment ahead of the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Samoa next year.

This week, the UK branch of the ICC called on all Commonwealth trade ministers to agree to adopt electronic trade documents.

The UK is set to pass the Electronic Trade Documents Bill this year, which will secure legal equivalence for electronic versions of trade documents.

ICC UK secretary general Chris Southworth says this is the “golden moment to reform laws and digitalise trade across the whole Commonwealth”.

Asked whether the Commonwealth was considering aligning with the UK on digital trade, Scotland said that the secretariat was working to create models for legislation and regulation.

“We’re looking at all the models that work in the Commonwealth, and the UK is absolutely one of those models, but the strength comes from the amalgamation of the best that there is in all the countries,” Scotland said, adding that Singapore was another important example in this area.

Part of the reason for Scotland’s certainty that digital trade will prove successful for the Commonwealth countries is due to the trust between them, she said.

“In 2019, we looked as if we were going to be heading for US$1tn of intra-Commonwealth trade by the end of 2020,” Scotland said. “Then all hell broke loose, and we thought, would Commonwealth trade take a nosedive like everything else? To our surprise, it stayed at the same level.”

“We saw that there had been an increase in digital trade,” Scotland said. “Why were they trading in the Commonwealth, digitally? Because there was trust. So we saw that this was an amazing opportunity.”

Scotland pointed to the admittance of Togo and Gabon, former French colonies, last year as a sign that the Commonwealth’s values-based system continues to be attractive.

“Right now, everybody wants friends. They’re looking at the Commonwealth family, and they’re seeing sustainability, interoperability and mirrored procedures,” she said.

“The multilateral system was under huge strain before Covid, and if Covid has taught us anything, it’s how desperately important having a multilateral system based on agreed rules actually is,” Scotland said.


Additional reporting by John Basquill.