Lord Jonathan Marland, chairman of the UK-based Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), said the proposed UK visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April marks a significant recognition by India that the Commonwealth has got value.
India’s growing engagement with the Commonwealth forum has given it a much-needed boost, according to the chairman of a UK-based council responsible for promoting greater trade and investment between Commonwealth countries. Lord Jonathan Marland, chairman of the UK-based Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), said the proposed UK visit of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in April marks a significant recognition by India that the Commonwealth has got value. “There has been a complete sea change of attitude towards the Commonwealth, which is entirely to India’s credit and to the Commonwealth’s benefit. This has given the Commonwealth the boost it needs,” he said during an interview on plans for CHOGM in London. The CWEIC is in charge of organising the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF), which will be held alongside CHOGM between April 16 and 20 and bring together businesses from across the 53 member-countries with government leaders for sessions on technology, innovation, financial services and sustainability. “India’s engagement is absolutely brilliant… there is a recognition that the Commonwealth offers a great opportunity for India and within that opportunity lies an opportunity for the rest of the Commonwealth,” he said.
Marland also dismissed tags such as “Empire 2.0” thrown up by some UK media reports that have sought to connect Brexit-hit Britain’s renewed engagement with the Commonwealth as a throwback to the Raj. “That is not the view of the UK government. The great news at the moment is that India has realised that this is not a colonial thing, and other countries have realised the same. “There comes a tipping point where people realise that this is a place of opportunity, rather than letting heritage get in the way of progress. I think we are at that point and I think a lot of that is down to India,” he said. According to CWEIC data, the Commonwealth’s combined population is an estimated 2.4 billion, with its combined GDP predicted to reach USD 14 trillion by 2020. Intra-Commonwealth trade was estimated to be USD 525 billion in 2015, which is projected to surpass USD 1 trillion by 2020.
The UK, as Chair-in-Office of the organisation for two years, will be hosting CHOGM in London and Windsor against the backdrop of negotiations with the European Union (EU) on its future as a non-member of the European economic bloc. Lord Marland has written to British Prime Minister Theresa May to make strengthening the Commonwealth a priority. “The UK has got a phenomenal opportunity with the Commonwealth. It has not prioritised it as a trading partner… I am not convinced yet the UK has worked out its role with it because it is very focused on Brexit negotiations and I don’t think it has looked too far beyond that,” he said. The former British government minister and trade envoy said Britain needs to provide “subtle and discreet leadership” because most Commonwealth countries look to the UK for leadership. “As trade envoy for the former British Prime Minister (David Cameron), it was clear to me that this was a jewel – a Koh-i-Noor diamond – that had been put away in a cupboard somewhere and now at last it was being brought out,” said Marland. “It is to the incredible credit of the Queen (Head of the Commonwealth) and the royal family that it still exists, because without them it wouldn’t. People have danced around the edges of it for too long,” he added. Members of the royal family will take on an active role in this year’s CHOGM as well, with Prince Harry expected to adopt a higher profile within the organisation as a youth leader.