The Commonwealth has been urged to achieve its potential in today’s dynamic trade landscape
By Mike Cowley
The Commonwealth has been urged to achieve its economic potential in a dramatically changing global trade landscape by Lord Marland of Odstock, the Chairman of The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC).
“We have an opportunity here today to really strengthen The Commonwealth’s trade and investment agenda and demonstrate the value of The Commonwealth Advantage. We must grasp it with both hands,” he urged the audience. (see full text of speech below)
He was speaking in London at The Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) which has been developed as a unique platform for dialogue, bringing together a range of industries and economies and plays a key role in CWEIC’s objective of fostering intra-Commonwealth trade.
Attended by 800 senior Commonwealth government and business leaders, the CBF was held on the eve of and in association with The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting, a biennial event which is being hosted in the UK for the first time in 20 years.
The CBF has grown in importance as Intra-Commonwealth trade has been boosted from an estimated US$525 billion in 2015 to a point where it is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020. And the combined GDP of The Commonwealth is anticipated to reach $14 trillion by the same year.
There is also a heightened appreciation that The Commonwealth is viewed as the network for doing business, with a combined population of 2.4 billion people, 60% of whom are under the age of 30. And the CWEIC’s stated objective is to encourage and grow this.
This work has been underpinned recently by the message known as The Commonwealth Advantage which was highlighted in the 2018 Commonwealth Trade Review. Published by The Commonwealth Secretariat on the eve of the CBF, this states that the 53 member states have the potential to increase trade by 20% while cutting costs by up to 19%.
Whereas The Commonwealth is not a formal trading bloc, according to the Review The Commonwealth Advantage is because member states enjoy a formidable advantage without any formal collaboration. Historical ties, familiar administrative and legal systems, the use of largely one language, English, as the means of communicating with foreign partners, and large and dynamic diasporas have contributed to strong trade relationships among its members.
The Commonwealth Trade Review, which was discussed in depth at the CBF, explores how Commonwealth members, individually and collectively, can strengthen this Commonwealth advantage in two ways: by harnessing new technologies, especially digitisation, to trigger new trade and investment opportunities; and by strengthening certain aspects of their domestic trade governance regime to reduce trade costs further.
Meanwhile the facts continue to support the “Advantage” message. Intra-Commonwealth trade as a proportion of global trade is rising and is now 20 per cent of Commonwealth countries’ total trade with the world. This underlines the growing significance of Commonwealth markets for many member countries.
With world trade growth forecast to rebound in 2017–18, The Commonwealth appears on track to achieve US$700 billion in intra-Commonwealth trade in goods and services by 2020, while proactive policy measures can trigger even greater gains.
With 60 million Commonwealth businesses, and a combined Gross National Income of over $10 trillion, interest in using The Commonwealth to its full trading potential is enjoying a resurgence.
Lord Marland sets out business agenda
Here with us today we have representatives from over 70 countries including Heads of Government, ministers, CEO’s and Chairman, all gathered to discuss and promote The Commonwealth trade and investment agenda. The enabling and convening power of The Commonwealth should not be underestimated.
“Today more than ever before the world is connecting and yet we see examples of Governments disconnecting every day. CHOGM and the CBF provides us with a unique opportunity for the most senior business people from across The Commonwealth to convene with Government and promote inclusive economic growth.
“The diversity of The Commonwealth is one of its biggest strengths. The network is home to some of the most stable economies in the world such as Australia and Canada, some of the fastest growing, such as India, and also 31 small states.
“I am proud of The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council’s role in delivering The Commonwealth Business Forum. In the past year we have seen a renewed interest in The Commonwealth.When the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia came to the UK last year, he reached out to us to convene a round table on Commonwealth-Saudi trade. We have opened two new country hubs, one in Nigeria and one in Malaysia. We have selected 100 Commonwealth First Export Champions and led trade missions to Australia, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore.
“We have an opportunity here today to really strengthen The Commonwealth’s trade and investment agenda and demonstrate the value of The Commonwealth Advantage.
We must grasp it with both hands.”
Bank’s key role in global prosperity
Chairman of Standard Chartered José Viñals, whose company is the lead sponsor of CWEIC, took to the floor of the CBF to reveal why his bank continues to play a key role in creating both opportunity and prosperity – and the key role that finance can play in facilitating trade and investment – in The Commonwealth.
“We are one of the world’s top three trade banks – financing 6 per cent of global trade – and with a presence in nearly half of The Commonwealth we have been involved in its members’ economic and social transformations for over 150 years,” he told the Forum.
“For example, we’ve been able and privileged to be able to play our part in Singapore’s rise as a trading nation and financial centre; India’s growth story; and Africa’s ongoing economic journey. We are a strong advocate for the multilateral trade system, for donor support and for determination of policy makers to promote global standards which have made this growth and development possible; something I know that The Commonwealth has also always championed.
“It is through business that the positives of trade and economic success need to be realised, and we have an essential role to play in ensuring people enjoy the benefits of a global society.”