Regardless of whether the UK is in or out of the EU, the Commonwealth is a superb natural market for business. And SMEs must ensure they capitalise on the labour and opportunities the Commonwealth countries provide.
Each year we celebrate Commonwealth Day. However, most people in the UK have modest knowledge of the Commonwealth, what it is and which countries are in it. It is largely seen by many as of only historic or sporting relevance.
Irrespective of the consequences of Brexit, the Commonwealth countries might be a gold mine for many UK-based SMEs. As fundamental changes are taking place in global trade, driven especially by digitalisation of trade, this presents both new risks and opportunities for UK-based businesses. Without being a formal trade bloc, the Commonwealth has special advantages of long established links and familiar laws, plus of course English being a common language.
The Commonwealth is probably the most remarkable network for business ever known with around 2.4 billion people across 53 highly diverse countries. Many of whom over 60% are under the age of 30. The benefits of trade goes deeper than the obvious economic benefits and includes the sharing of ideas, values and culture.
Nonetheless, the biggest issue for all countries is to successfully build their economies with diverse small to medium sized businesses. This is the biggest driver of resilient economic growth as well as the only real solution to the imminent reduction of traditional work displaced by automation. The developing countries of the Commonwealth have particular vulnerability to automation replacing low-skilled work, meaning vast numbers of children born today will grow up in a world without the traditional job opportunities that have provided work, even if often low-paid and exploitative. Developing new trade opportunities may therefore be a lifeline for many people whose future looks bleak as robots arrive on the scene.
The scope is undoubtedly there for UK SMEs and other developed countries to collaborate and build relationships that will also foster growing businesses and job opportunities in vulnerable countries, many of whom are in truth the fastest growing markets of the future.
The focus of international trade needs to be increasingly about helping SMEs gain global awareness and market development. This is tough for the average SME working with limited resources and no international links but there is a limit to what large corporates can do to create new jobs so this will mainly depend on the success of numerous sustainable SMEs.
The Global Commission on the Future of Work highlighted in January the need to build a just and equitable future of work and the need for national strategies as well as the challenges ahead. This is against the background of technological advances meaning that today’s skills will not match the jobs of tomorrow. The greening of economies will create lots of new jobs but there will be immense pressure on labour markets as traditional work is steadily eliminated and carbon-intensive industries are scaled back.
The Commonwealth is unusually well-placed to encourage dialogue on the future of work and the trade opportunities that should mitigate the worst effects of technology on jobs. Indeed, the Commonwealth has extraordinary insights into the shape of markets across the world within the huge Commonwealth family and its leaders are perhaps one of the best global collaborations possible to discuss shared threats and opportunities affecting vast numbers of people.
Businesses of any size with export potential need to be the priority in all Commonwealth nations and best practice on encouraging their growth is there to be shared for mutual benefit. Best get started soon.