Lord Ahmad, UK Minister for the Commonwealth and the UN
The UK will host the next Commonwealth Heads of State Summit in April next year. This time, the meeting of the "English-speaking club" takes on an added significance, with Britain preparing to exit the European Union and seek stronger trade and cultural ties with the rest of the world. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (pictured, right), Minister for the Commonwealth at the Foreign and Commonwealth office, talks to Anver Versi on why the body is more relevant than ever in today's world.
What is the Commonwealth's role now in the current global environment?
What makes the Commonwealth quite unique is that there is a snared common culture, a common history, common governance principles.
There's much replicated in terms of the way we do business; our justice and educational systems are intrinsically linked and of course, we have a common language. These are major strengths and foundations on which to build an organisation. To have all of this already in place is a huge opportunity for all of us.
When you look at Commonwealth trade specifically, it currently stands at about 687 bn [pounds sterling] across the 52 member countries. Bv 2020, we are looking at over a trillion pounds' worth of trade.
The forthcoming Summit provides a great opportunity for the Heads of Government meeting there to actually not just renew that but to see how we can strengthen areas of trade. I think that will be a key aspect of our focus.
How much of this figure of 687bn [pounds sterling] would you say is Africa's contribution?
I think we're looking at around 40bn [pounds sterling]. I know for example that our trade with Ghana currently, to make it specific to my recent visit there, has a value of just over 1bn [pounds sterling] in terms of bilateral trade. And there's a lot of bilateral trade, UK-Africa, Africa-Asia and the other way around.
When we look at sectors such as banking and technology for example, India comes to mind for obvious reasons, in terms of how the world is becoming more global.
In view of Brexit, how important is the Commonwealth going to be to the UK, particularly UK trade? Well first of all, to dispel any myths that are out there; there are some who perhaps think that the fact that we are talking more strongly, positively, on the nature of the Commonwealth is because Brexit has happened.
Had the vote gone the other way, I can assure you that we would still have been hosting the Summit here in London...