A spirit of generosity should guide the UK’s new deals with developing countries

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In this guest blog from Dr John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, reflects on the UK's future trading relationships with some of the world's poorest countries.

Despite concerted global efforts, millions of the world’s people still live in poverty. Lack of access to clean water, education, decent jobs and opportunities are the reality of daily life for far too many people today. Global economic growth has delivered prosperity for some, but has left others behind.

For many of the world’s poor, international trade can be an opportunity. Done in the right way, trade can help create jobs, livelihoods and hope for the future, as well as generating national wealth to pay for education and training, roads, clinics and hospitals.

For the past forty years, the UK’s trading relationships have been agreed as part of the European Union. In the future, this could look very different.

Last month, the Africa Trade Network brought together representatives of trade and development organisations from across Africa, the Caribbean and the Pacific regions in Accra, Ghana, to discuss international trade. Traidcraft Exchange was there as well.

Experts from these organisations highlighted what they believe trade with the UK for developing countries should look like after Brexit. Their agenda is straightforward: they want their countries to be able to develop their own economies, to be able to trade more closely with their nearest geographical neighbours, to industrialise and add value to what they produce.

It's a recipe no-one could argue with, and one which almost all developed countries have followed on their way to economic growth.

These experts are critical of the previous trade agreements promoted by the UK as a member of the European Union which instead focused on opening developing country markets to European exports and played off neighbouring countries against each other. They are sceptical about plans for the UK government to replicate these agreements in future.

What they want is for the UK to listen to them, and engage in a spirit of dialogue, rather than approaching trade negotiations with a set of preconditions. They want trade policies which will support their economic development and not undermine it.

Cheikh Tidiane Dieye, Executive Director of the African Centre for Trade, Integration and Development (CACID), based in Dakar, Senegal, spoke about how trade could be a ‘win-win’ situation for both the UK and developing countries. But the UK ‘needs to see how it would be possible to cooperate’ rather than just trying to ‘see markets opened.’ 

Britain has always wanted to be seen as a generous country, committed to eradicating poverty and building economic opportunity. Despite criticism from many quarters, the current government has maintained its commitment to giving 0.7% of annual income in international aid. That same generosity must be extended when it comes to building new trade relationships with some of the world’s poorest countries.

This week leaders of the 53 nations of the Commonwealth gathered in London. Their theme for the whole of this year is ‘Towards a Common Future’. Approaching potential new trade relationships between the UK and some of the world’s poorest countries in a spirit of generosity and with the recognition that we all share a common future would be a good start.

J McNaughton