How and where to stimulate trade between Commonwealth nations was one of the key questions at ‘Doing Business in the Commonwealth,’ a panel discussion event hosted by the Isle of Man’s government last month, to mark the island’s successful hosting of the Commonwealth Youth Games. The debate drew together the expertise of Paula Freedman, Director of Devolved Markets for UK Trade and Investment, Peter Longworth, Director of Corporate and Government Relations for the Commonwealth Business Council, and Edwin Laurent, Head of International Trade and Regional Co-operation for the Commonwealth Secretariat, along with High Commissioners, parliamentarians and business leaders. Several key areas explored in the discussion were:
l Whether the global economic crisis will be a catalyst for greater regional economic integration;
l How and where we can accelerate intra-commonwealth trade against a backdrop of uncertain economic and political conditions;
l How we can raise awareness of the economic ties between us; and
l What the role of smaller jurisdictions in the Commonwealth and their contribution to the global economy are.
Looking to the Isle of Man, I appealed to the distinguished representatives at the discussion; it is not a question of whether the global economic downturn can be a catalyst for greater integration between all Commonwealth states – it must be. Looking to doing business within the Commonwealth is an essential part of their economic planning.
A self-governing Crown Dependency located in the Irish Sea, the Isle of Man strives to give businesses and individuals the opportunity to grow and realise their ambitions. Government policy is economically competitive and internationally responsible in supporting the interests of our people. Consequently the island has seen over 25 years of continuous growth, which has transformed an economy mostly based on agriculture, tourism, fishing and manufacturing into much more diversified sectors. Today it is defined by a business-friendly environment and modern regulatory framework aligned to international standards. This progression has been supported by modern infrastructure development and a highly skilled workforce, which in turn fostered inward investment and initiatives in high-value sectors such as finance, high-tech manufacturing in aerospace, precision engineering and electronics, as well as international shipping and aircraft registration.
As much as we have been the authors of our own development, we recognise that to achieve our economic goals we need to work with other countries, and cooperate in delivering internationally accepted standards – to which end we have often been at the forefront of change. It is this important role the island plays in the global community, which has been recognised in soon-to-be-published research by Ernst & Young. It finds that the Isle of Man is a major trading partner for the UK in three main areas:
l Trade in goods and services;
l Sectors such as aerospace and high tech industries, ICT and e-business; and
l Support for the expansion of the UK in emerging markets like India, China and Brazil.
The research also demonstrates that the Isle of Man is an important and reliable partner to the City of London, providing inward financial flows to support the activity of the City, as well as facilitating diversification and strengthening relationships with emerging markets. This fact was attested to by Sir David Lewis, a former Lord Mayor of London, who described the Isle of Man as ‘a core asset for the City’.
The Isle of Man has also been recognised for delivering internationally accepted standards through its work with the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Since developing a model Tax Information Exchange Agreement a decade ago, the island has proactively gone on to sign almost 30 agreements, which meet the recognised OECD standard. The Isle of Man also became one of the first non-EU countries to automatically share bank account information with EU member states. Recently the island was praised for its ‘effective and expeditious exchange’ of information in a review by the OECD.
One of the goals of the Commonwealth is to help the concerns of small states receive greater international attention. As we know only too well, it remains difficult – but vital – for small countries to have their voices heard in the international arena. As I recently reminded participants in the Small Countries Financial Management Programme, we can be valuable contributors to the economies of the larger nations, something which many of them misunderstand, or do not recognise. I believe that small countries are entitled to be taken seriously and to be treated fairly by the institutions and governments of the larger countries. But I accept that to earn such treatment, we must embody and champion co-operation with such international institutions as the OECD, the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
Self determination should not lead to insularity and it is important that we remain as focused on our international engagement and responsibilities as we do on the development of our economy. This has arguably never been more important than now during this period of economic slowdown.
As I remarked at the event, it is more vital then ever to reaffirm the ties between Commonwealth nations at a time of economic slowdown. As we all appreciate, the Commonwealth is an association of countries that support each other and work together towards shared goals in democracy and in social and economic development. Our futures are linked not only through the ties of history, language and institutions, but also through the sharing of common values – democracy, freedom, peace, rule of law, and opportunity for all.
In September, the Isle of Man was fortunate to have the Commonwealth come to us. More than a thousand up-and-coming young sports stars have been to our island to compete in the 4th Commonwealth Youth Games. We are proud to be the first small nation to host these games. It has been an ambitious undertaking for us, and we are pleased that the Games Federation put its faith in us to host this prestigious Commonwealth event. In addition to such sporting activities, the Isle of Man has many other ongoing relationships within the Commonwealth family. Our politicians continue to play an active role in the work of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, with a former Speaker of our lower house, Sir Charles Kerruish, President of the Association between 1983 and 1984.
In the spirit of co-operation, partnership and understanding that characterises the Commonwealth, the Isle of Man has been committed to working closely with the Commonwealth Secretariat to help other small nations develop effective strategies for managing change – this has been through our sponsorship of the Small Countries Financial Management Programme. In early September we welcomed government officials from 21 different countries. The island is extremely proud of our involvement with this programme, for it delivers world-class advice on financial management and negotiation techniques to countries that otherwise might not be able to access leading educators from Oxford, London, and Harvard, as well as experienced international regulators and practitioners.’
The speech I gave at Doing business in the Commonwealth, was my final keynote address in the UK before retiring after 35 rewarding years in public service. Over this period I have witnessed profound change and challenge. Surveying the international economic climate now, it is clear that we are passing through a deeply transformative period. However, looking closer to home, I am left in no doubt that the Isle of Man will continue to be a beneficial partner to the UK and a responsible partner for all Commonwealth nations.