A Commonwealth agenda for Growth

A Commonwealth agenda for Growth
A Commonwealth agenda for Growth

The Commonwealth held a first-of-its-kind trade ministers' meet recently to inject much-needed vigour into the organisation. The man behind the summit writes exclusively for 'India Global Business'. The inaugural Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting (CTTM) on 9th March 2017 was an important moment for the Commonwealth. As many as 35 trade ministers from across the world, including Australia, Bangladesh, Canada, Kenya, Malaysia, Malta, New Zealand, Nigeria, Singapore, South Africa and the UK, came together not just for the sake of old ties, but to consider how the network can build an “Agenda for Growth” that will challenge economic stagnation and a growing protectionist clamour in global markets. It is encouraging to see that India is leading the push to ensure trade and investment is a priority for the Commonwealth. We were delighted to welcome Commerce Secretary, Rita Teaotia, standing in for Commerce Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who was unable to attend due to responsibilities during the Budget. We are grateful for the minister's support and early advocacy for the meeting to go ahead. Out of the day's six roundtable discussions came many important proposals that we will be looking to develop in the run up to next year's Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in London. Firstly, we are proposing to appoint a Commonwealth Trade Ambassador to gage the trade and investment priorities of member countries and to scope the potential for the development of a “Commonwealth Trade and Investment Accord”, which would underpin the development of trade and investment agreements between them. The CTTM was also an opportunity for member states to reaffirm their commitment to the full implementation of the WTO Trade Facilitation Agreement, which has the opportunity to reduce trade costs worldwide by 17.5 per cent. The focus now should be on facilitation of trade in services and India has already shown global leadership on this issue. In the digital age, the Commonwealth recognises that countries that do not harness the power of new technology and innovation based means of doing business can be left behind. We will be exploring the possibilities of new trade technologies such as blockchain and developing an ecommerce legislative toolkit with the view to breaking down trade barriers further. The SME sector is of vital importance to modern economies and the Commonwealth is committted to doing what it can to improve the business enivronment for SMEs and help SMEs find a route to market. The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) will therefore look to expand its CommonwealthFirst SME export programme. We also welcome the Government of India's proposal to host a Commonwealth SME Summit later this year and the support India has shown in establishing the Commonwealth Trade Finance Facility. We will also do more to suport young entrepreneurs, through the Commonwealth Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs, which CII Young Indians were instrumental in establishing, and also encouraging female economic empowerment. The data puts the Commonwealth's huge trade and investment potential into context. Between 2003-2013, trade in goods and services between Commonwealth countries exploded from $266 billion to $592 billion, registering an annual growth rate of about 10 per cent. It is estimated that intra-Commonwealth trade in 2015 was $687 billion and is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. That is the target that we have recommitted ourselves to at the Trade Ministers Meeting. Achieving it will bring greater prosperity to all our countries and highlight the Commonwealth's ability to create growth in difficult circumstances. In Britain, there has been a historic reluctance to truly engage with the Commonwealth as a vehicle for trade and investment growth, something our membership of the EU has also impeded. But as the UK looks to a new future outside the EU, there is clearly an enormous opportunity for greater engagement with the Commonwealth. However, the UK cannot lead such an agenda alone, one from which all member countries could stand to benefit. As the country with over half of the Commonwealth's population, a hugely dynamic economy and a growing global leadership role, I know that Commonwealth members would be delighted to see India engage even more fully with our trade and investment agenda. This is in India's interests as well as the Commonwealth's. If the Indian Government is to hit its goal of doubling the country's exports to $900 billion and elevating its share of world trade from the current 2 per cent to 3.5 per cent by 2020 (as announced in India's Five Year Foreign Trade Policy of 2015) it will require a step change in international commercial diplomacy and the export performance of its companies. With Indian exports contracting by almost 17 per cent - from $314 billion in fiscal 2013-14 to $261 billion in 2015-16, now is clearly an important time to try to bring this change about. With five Commonwealth countries, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the UK, featuring amongst the top fifteen importers of Indian goods and services, and Australia, South Africa and Kenya also amongst India's fastest growing trade partners there are some clear opportunities from better utilisation of the network. The Commonwealth's positive brand in its eighteen African member states could also help India realise a $90 billion African trade target which, in 2015, materialised in an actual figure of only $56.67 billion. The Commonwealth also stands as a global champion for the promotion of democracy, peace and security, good governance, sustainable development and gender equality - all values that India shares. A strong Commonwealth underpinned by a successful trade and investment agenda can help India to project these values, and India's soft power around the world, giving it a long term competitive advantage. To conclude, a UK finally able to turn its attentions to the world outside of Europe alongside an ambitious India increasingly ready to take its place on the global stage can work together to harness the momentum generated by this month's Trade Ministers Meeting and lead a Commonwealth Trade and Investment agenda. As the build-up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in London in April 2018 begins, the Commonwealth has a huge opportunity to finally seize its potential and become a force for prosperity and free trade around the world. Lord Marland of Odstock is Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC).

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