Brexit may offer opportunities for Australia as Britain shifts focus to former colonies
By Europe correspondent James Glenday
There are few institutions quite as peculiar as the Commonwealth.
A coalition of some of the world's "largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries".
Its exact purpose, apart from acting as a reminder of its predecessor the British Empire, has always been loosely defined and many expect it to wither.
But not those behind Brexit.
Some of the orchestrators of last year's historic vote think now is the perfect time to roll back the years.
For them, the Commonwealth is a diamond in the rough.
Trade deals, it's claimed, will be easily done because of the Commonwealth's common language, similar institutions and "familial bonds".
Negotiations will supposedly serve as convenient "test runs" before Britain enters talks with global economic giants like the US and China.
Interestingly, a number of "Brexiteers" see it as a chance to right what they perceive was a historic wrong — the UK's decision to cut Commonwealth trade ties in the 1970s in order to forge a new life inside the European Economic Community.
And that brings us to "Empire 2.0".
Focus shifts to former colonies
This week has played host to the first meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers in London.
With much of the country's recent media cycle dominated by negative stories about Brexit delays, Britain's representative Liam Fox publicised his plans to use the gathering to boost trade ties, particularly with Africa.
He held a fresh round of formal talks with Trade Minister Steven Ciobo, and The Times newspaper has suggested outlines of deals with Australia, New Zealand and maybe even Canada could be sketched out as early as next year.
But the focus on former colonies seems to have irked sceptical British public servants.
They coined the derisive term "Empire 2.0", and its leaking appears to have been an attempt to force their bosses to look further afield.
Many respected economists warn it's laughable to think the Commonwealth could ever replace Britain's access to the EU single market, several countries in Africa are deeply sceptical about the benefits of free trade anyway and the Government's opponents have decried the push as "delusional nonsense".
But for Australia, the mother country's current interest in the Commonwealth could be an advantage.
When it finally leaves the EU, Britain will be keen to ink as many trade deals as quickly as possible to prove itself on the world stage.
The country that ditched us, now really wants us back.
Some officials think it's an opportunity for the Australian Government to negotiate hard and get more of what it wants.
Back in the 1990s, my economic teacher described our trade relationship with the UK as good until "The British did a naughty thing to us." Those were his words, not mine. Basically this naughty thing was prioritised trade to Europe instead of to the commonwealth. Australia eventually sought new trade partners in the form of the US and Japan. Back when I was in high school we sought trade with ASEAN to create another market, or at least the emphasis was on ASEAN in my curriculum. Who would have thought the rise of China would come to dominate our trade now that they are now our largest trading partner easily.
There are certainly opportunities for us to benefit from the UK post Brexit. I just can't imagine the commonwealth able to trade enough to replace the common market. Seriously, the largest commonwealth country aside from the UK in economics term is India, which is smaller than France (3rd largest EU country by GDP nominal) and the second largest is Canada which and then fourth largest EU economy (Italy) and then, us (Australia) which is larger than Spain, the fifth largest EU economy. The next economy is Nigeria, which is smaller than Sweden and comparable to Belgium.
So I am going to vote No in this poll.