British Prime Minister Theresa May today opened the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) here, marking the start of the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) with a message of using the organisation to challenge the forces of protectionism and promote greater trade.
India is among 52 other member-countries participating in the summit hosted by the UK in London around the theme of "Towards a Common Future". Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be reaching here tomorrow to attend the CHOGM.
"The 2018 Commonwealth Trade Review predicted that trade between member states will be worth USD 700 billion by 2020. Yet risks remain. Global growth is fragile. The challenges posed by protectionism are all too clear," Theresa May said in her opening speech at the Guildhall.
"If Commonwealth businesses are to flourish in such times, if we are to deliver and secure the prosperous future our young people want and deserve, then the Commonwealth and national governments must not be afraid to act," she added.
The Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) is participating in the CBF with what it describes as a "momentous" delegation of nearly 40 business leaders across different sectors of the country, led by CII President Rakesh Bharti Mittal, Vice-Chairman of Bharti Enterprises.
The Indian business leaders aim to highlight opportunities for intra-Commonwealth collaboration across technology, skills, agriculture and infrastructure verticals as part of the largest Indian delegation of CEOs and young Indian business leaders to any Commonwealth Summit in recent times.
Chandrajit Banerjee, CII Director-General, said: "The key question is what will be the new-age "common" factor in the Commonwealth? India's trade with Commonwealth nations is 20 per cent of its global trade basket.
"Therefore, business must redefine and lay the foundation for the new evolving architecture of the Commonwealth this presents a great opportunity for Indian business to lead the narrative, whether it is in trade facilitation, seamless movement of professionals and visitors, skills to support new-age employability, sustainability or small business."
He stressed that re-engaging with the Commonwealth at the highest level with Prime Minister Modi's participation at CHOGM later this week is a "marked strategic shift" for India.
Tripartite or bilateral cooperation for collaboration in third countries is also of significant interest, with new models of collaboration between India and the UK, focusing on joint projects and investments in African countries.
The UK, which is the Chair-in-Office of the Commonwealth for two years, also unveiled a range of new initiatives and networks to mark the launch of CHOGM. Theresa May announced that the UK will be funding a new Commonwealth Standards Network, which will support developing countries in particular to better meet existing international standards.
"It will empower developing countries to have a stronger voice in the international standards community something that has benefits on a global scale," she said.
The UK will also fund a new Trade Facilitation Programme, supporting and providing technical assistance to selected Commonwealth countries in implementing the World Trade Organisation's Trade Facilitation Agreement.
And, working alongside the International Trade Centre, it will also deliver a new SheTrades Commonwealth initiative to offer Commonwealth-wide support to help countries break down gender barriers in international trade.
"There is no doubt there is Commonwealth factor trade costs are 19 per cent lower between Commonwealth members. Some members benefit greatly but we can spread that benefit further," said Charles Bowman, Lord Mayor of the City of London.
"Ask not what the UK wants from the Commonwealth but ask what the UK can do for the Commonwealth," added Lord Marland, the chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) and in charge of the Commonwealth Business Forum, which, alongside Women's, People's and Youth forums, marks the precursor to the Heads of Government Meeting starting on Thursday.
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