They expressed their shared commitment to deepen collaboration to support all members, especially developing countries, least developed countries, small states and small island developing states, to reap the gains from international trade.
One of the key outcomes of the meeting was to mandate that the Commonwealth Working Group on Trade and Investment will focus on generating an investment plan of action, with the goal of increasing investment flows among Commonwealth member countries. This initiative aims to support economic growth, particularly in infrastructure development and clean, green investments.
Furthermore, the Trade Ministers emphasised the need to foster a digital transition and facilitate digital trade for inclusive growth and development. To address the digital divide and skills gaps, Commonwealth members emphasised the need to focus on developing digital public infrastructure, ensuring affordable access to digital technologies, and promoting digital financial services.
Ministers agreed to the establishment of a new Legal Reform and Digitalisation Working Group under the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda’s Business-to-Business Cluster to assist member countries in transitioning to paperless trade.
The Trade Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a transparent and inclusive rules-based multilateral trading system, with the World Trade Organization (WTO) at its core. They expressed concerns about protectionist measures and unfair trading practices that threaten the rules-based trading system and called for continued reform of the multilateral trading rules for agriculture and the smooth functioning of supply chains. They agreed that Rwanda as the Chair-in-Office would deliver an agreed joint statement on behalf of Commonwealth Trade Ministers to the upcoming 13th WTO Ministerial Conference in February 2024.
The outcome statement also highlighted the importance of addressing global challenges such as climate change, food security, and women’s economic empowerment through trade and investment. The Trade Ministers expressed their commitment to promoting sustainable trade practices, green economies, and the empowerment of women-owned businesses.
Speaking after the meeting, the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Patricia Scotland said: “I’m so pleased to announce the successful outcomes of the 2023 Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting. The Commonwealth is committed to strengthening the multilateral trading system, deepening trade and investment, fostering sustainability, and enabling a digital transition. I am looking forward to continued collaboration between our members towards a brighter and more prosperous Commonwealth.”
The 2023 Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting sets the stage for the upcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Apia, Samoa, in 2024, where these issues will be further discussed and reflected upon.