Four facts about trade and business links between the UK and the Commonwealth

For people in the UK, the Commonwealth generally brings to mind the Commonwealth Games and the history of the British Empire. But there is a little more to it than that.

The Commonwealth is an important historical political association of the UK and 52 other countries from around the world. There are well known members such as Australia and India, and smaller members such as Tuvalu and Lesotho.

While the roots of the Commonwealth go back to the British Empire, not all member countries have historical ties to the UK. For example, Rwanda and Mozambique – the two most recent Commonwealth members – were never ruled by Britain.

Here, to celebrate Commonwealth Day 2016 we aim to give a little more insight into the relationship between the UK and other Commonwealth countries in terms of trade and business links.

1. Nearly one in every 10 foreign owned UK businesses were owned by countries in the Commonwealth in 2014


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There were 23,300 foreign owned UK businesses in 2014. Of these, 2,200 were owned by countries in the Commonwealth.

More than twice as many foreign owned UK businesses were owned by the USA (5,400) than by all Commonwealth countries combined.

2. Australia owned more UK businesses than India in 2014, but India’s made more money


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Unsurprisingly, Australia, Canada and India, the three biggest economies in the Commonwealth (excluding the UK) were the three most dominant countries when it came to ownership of, and turnover from, foreign owned UK businesses with Commonwealth ownership in 2014. Altogether they owned 64% of the businesses.

In contrast, all the Commonwealth countries in Africa combined owned fewer than 200 of the 2,200 foreign owned UK businesses with Commonwealth ownership. This was equivalent to around just 8% of the businesses.

3. The service sector accounts for 62% of foreign owned UK businesses with Commonwealth ownership but only generates 35% of turnover


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In contrast, farming and production generated almost half the turnover from these businesses, even though only 14% were in this sector.

4. Since 2011, the UK has sold more goods and services to Commonwealth countries than it has bought from them


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The UK has long had a deficit when it comes to trading goods and services with the rest of the world. This means overall we buy more from the rest of the world than we sell.

But when considering our trade just with the Commonwealth countries, we currently have a trade surplus. We have sold more to these countries than we bought from them since 2011.


1. Facts 1, 2 and 3 refer to businesses in the non-financial business economy and the term ‘businesses’ refers to only to those registered for VAT and/or PAYE in the UK.
2. You can view the data used for fact 1, fact 2, fact 3 and fact 4 on the ONS website.

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