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The organisation charged with promoting trade and investment between Commonwealth countries has had a turbulent history but it may have finally found its saviour in businessman and entrepreneur Jonathan Peter Marland, also known as Lord Marland of Odstock. Here we trace the journey of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and the promise it holds under Lord Marland's stewardship. The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Edinburgh in 1997 had mandated the creation of the Commonwealth Business Council (CBC) with a clear remit to act as a bridge of cooperation to enhance trade and investment opportunities for the cross-continental collective. However, despite a board of directors made up of some senior leaders of industry from across the Commonwealth and a promising first few years, the CBC seemed to fall well short of its remit. Details on the inner workings and accusations and counter-accusations which surfaced during the tenure of Indian-origin academic Dr Mohan Kaul as its director-general remain opaque to this day. Quite what was behind the ultimate liquidation in 2014 of the CBC remain a matter of some contention. It was under this cloud that Marland was to step in to try and rejuvenate what was by the accounts of insiders an
organisation more geared to fulfilling the ambitions of one man, rather than the noble cause for which it was established. Marland has by contrast given it some much-needed value and relevance as chairman of its new avatar - the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC). With his vast experience as the British Prime Minister's former Trade Envoy and his no-nonsense style of doing business, he is certainly proving to be the right choice to breathe life into this much needed investment bridge. The central focus is to increase investment in the 53 Commonwealth countries by companies from other Commonwealth countries and expand trade in both goods and services between them. “Enterprise, investment and trade are core to the activities of Commonwealth countries and we are glad to have the opportunity of carrying out this mandate,” Lord Marland said when he took office of the new not-for-profit entity in July 2014. Central to CWEIC's claim to existence is the understanding that businesses require a set of values under which trade and investment can take place - transparency; good governance; respect for the rule of law; enforceable physical and intellectual property rights; equal opportunities and a diverse workforce; and an overarching understanding that financial probity from government and the private sector is key to a flourishing business environment. A pretty tall order, some experienced hands at working with many of the Commonwealth countries would no doubt say. Marland, therefore, has a tough job in balancing business pragmatism with such lofty ideals, which in some parts of his empire seem distant and perhaps even obscure.
On a personal note, the working relationship between the CBC under Mohan Kaul and former Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma remained frosty at best. It was unfortunate that the two were often seen to be working at cross-purposes rather than towards a collective goal of greater collaboration within the Commonwealth. If India's two distinguished sons could not work together, many other Indians seemed put off by the whole show. However, now with Baroness Scotland in the Secretary-General's chair and Lord Marland overseeing the CWEIC, we can finally be more optimistic of a fruitful partnership that works towards realising the true potential of this collective - to promote trade and investment by facilitating engagement between government and the private sector throughout the Commonwealth. Just recently, the CWEIC officially launched the Commonwealth Trade Initiative, an online platform designed to connect potential trade counterparties across the 53 member states. The automated business matching system will use algorithms to match relevant profiles of buyers and suppliers. Businesses from Commonwealth nations can join, and input information about the nature of their organisation, such as industry, sector, and so on, as well as more sophisticated details such as possible future products. With proactive initiatives such as these, any many more in the pipeline, Marland has set a brighter and more inclusive horizon for an otherwise club once described as by the Raj and for the Raj. And with Prime Minister Modi's confident foray globally, may be the Commonwealth is ripe for another Indian acquisition We wonder what Marland would have to say to that.