Minister for Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, and a candidate for the position of Commonwealth Secretary-General, Shirley Ayorkor Botchwey, has unveiled a bold vision for the future of the Commonwealth, including a proposal for a comprehensive free trade agreement within the organization of 56 countries.
Delivering a lecture at the 5th Anniversary of the Council on Foreign Relations in Accra on Friday, February 2, 2024, Minister Botchwey passionately addressed the urgent need for a renewed economic framework within the Commonwealth, emphasizing the potential of fostering a more integrated and cooperative trading environment.
The Minister proposed the revival of discussions on a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement, leveraging recent advancements in international trade dynamics and bilateral agreements between member states.
“Across the Commonwealth, policymakers struggle with policies to raise growth in isolation, through austerity and high taxes. The pie is simply not capable of feeding everyone unless consumer-based market expansion considers the potential of our 2.5 billion population. This requires that we re-envision a framework for Commonwealth trade to end the stagnation that is widespread across our countries, surpassing the potential $2 trillion trade within the Commonwealth.
“Should I be elected as Secretary-General, I will revive the idea of having a free-trade agreement among Commonwealth countries,” she said.
Minister Botchwey highlighted the importance of tailoring the free trade agreement to address the specific development needs and challenges of developing countries within the Commonwealth. She stressed the necessity of scaling up Aid for Trade disbursements to enhance productive capacity.
Acknowledging the diversity of the Commonwealth, Minister Botchwey advocated for inclusivity that considers the unique circumstances of Pacific Island States, the Caribbean, and small states. The goal, she said, was to ensure that the benefits of the free trade agreements are accessible to all members, in order to promote equitable economic growth.
She said her vision for a Commonwealth-wide free trade agreement If successfully implemented, could transform the economic landscape, providing member states with enhanced integration into global and regional supply chains. It could serve as a model for synergic regional and multilateral trade integration, providing inspiration at the global level, she said.
She called for generous labor mobility commitments within the agreement, drawing attention to successful models such as the Seasonal Workers Program and the Recognised Seasonal Employer.
This, she argued, would not only facilitate workforce exchange but also encourage businesses to invest in developing member states, thus creating jobs there and stemming the desire of young people to illegally migrate to wealthier member states.
She said 60 percent of the Commonwealth’s 2.5 billion people were below the age of 30.
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