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Bringing India into the Commonwealth fast lane
India's star is rising - and the Commonwealth can help it soar, says Lord Jonathan Marland as he explains how the modern Commonwealth can be a key instrument for Indian business. The moment of India's joining, as the first republic to do so in 1949, is often seen as the birth of the modern Commonwealth of Nations - the nascence of a family of countries with a shared language and similar underlying legal, civil and cultural pillars. As the largest member of the Commonwealth, home to nearly 50 per cent of Commonwealth citizens, and with significant diaspora populations in almost every country, India can play a leading role in driving forward this unique group of countries. It is unsurprisingly India's dynamic private sector that is likely to be the first to seize the opportunity. With the rise in popularity of trade blocs, and the increased globalisation of trade through highly-integrated supply chains, the Commonwealth is undergoing a refreshed importance as a network of far-flung but tightly connected markets with a fundamental commonality. Indeed, recent research by the Commonwealth Secretariat shows that on average trade costs are 19 per cent lower between Commonwealth countries. In addition, the CWEIC (Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council) is planning the first-ever meeting of Commonwealth Trade Ministers - as proposed by India's Trade Minister, Nirmala Sitharaman - in the Spring of 2017 to identify opportunities to leverage and grow the so-called Commonwealth Factor even further. What has the Commonwealth to offer India And what has India to offer the Commonwealth The simple answer in both cases is “just as much as ever, if not more”. For example, India is a significant investor into the UK - more than doubling its investments last year. Equally, India's increasing links with African countries - as those trade corridors deepen and broaden - is facilitated and supported by their shared membership and acknowledged historic links. Foreign Direct Investment in both directions has skyrocketed over the past 10 years, while the share of India's exports destined for Africa has climbed to 10.6 per cent, and imports from the latter now account for 8.7 per cent of India's total imports. A high degree of India's exports - a staggering 40 per cent - originate from small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); a firm cornerstone of the country's economy. In fact, India has 51 million SMEs providing employment to huge swathes of the population For Indian SMEs then, and for Indian trade with Africa and elsewhere, there is still considerable room for growth particularly when compared with China's remarkable outbound expansion in recent years. And the Commonwealth can facilitate such growth by offering open doors into new markets across its wide body, as well as promoting connectivity and lowering barriers to trade. CommonwealthFirst is a new initiative led by the CWEIC to encourage SMEs to tap into Commonwealth markets. We have recently launched a UK programme to mentor 100 leading UK SMEs through a three-year programme that will guide them as they make the leap to becoming successful exporters. The first group of these companies will shortly be undertaking trade missions to India and other fast-growing Commonwealth markets. But - perhaps more importantly for India - the CWEIC plans to roll-out the programme elsewhere, starting, naturally, with India. We have recently launched the Commonwealth Trade Initiative, an online business-matching platform that allows users - already in the tens of thousands - to connect with potential trade counterparties across the 53 member states. We encourage Indian businesses to logon and let the world come to them. The sum of such channels, and opportunities they present, build an undeniable picture of promise - both in the continuing value of the Commonwealth as a global network, and in India's particularly bright prospects as a key member state. Lord Marland is chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC). He retired as the British Prime Minister's Trade Envoy and Chairman of the Business Ambassador Network in January 2014. He is the former chairman of the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC).