OPINION: The Commonwealth’s Relevance Today?

Commonwealth Games in Birmingham

As the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham come to an end, our Chairman Dr Nik Kotecha OBE, looks at how the games have brought out the best in nations, and examines the modern relevance and benefits to the UK of the concept of ‘Commonwealth. 

This summer’s Commonwealth Games in Birmingham have highlighted the best of humanity under the most difficult of circumstances; but I’m not just talking about the exceptional performances of the athletes.

The games have come to celebrate and symbolise all that is great about diversity and inclusion, where multi-culturalism takes centre stage and wins gold.

But for many, the concept of ‘Commonwealth’ is outdated and consigned to Britain’s much maligned colonial past, so what is its relevance to today’s world?

For me, the Commonwealth Games and the diversity and inclusivity of the Commonwealth are particularly meaningful, as they have run like a thread through my life, both personally and as an entrepreneur.

I was born in East Africa, my family heritage is from India, whilst I am now proudly British, having lived here for 50 years. I have conducted business throughout the world and in particular the Commonwealth. I think there are three key elements to focus on.

First, the Commonwealth has been helpful to many entrepreneurs and small businesses looking to expand. Whilst it does not offer a single market like the European Union, it is instead a powerful economic network, accounting for 9.4% of the UK’s total trade, 9.8% of UK exports and 9.1% of UK imports.

When I set up my pharmaceuticals company in 1991 from my home garage, this was before the internet and the world was much less connected. We looked for exporting opportunities to emerging markets. Some of the first countries we exported to were Commonwealth ones, such as Barbados, Guyana and many African nations.

The Commonwealth contains emerging economies, which, as they recover from Covid, are set to grow fast. It offers a network through which companies can grow and entrepreneurs can find opportunity. This will be particularly important as countries continue to rebuild from the ravages of Covid. The Commonwealth has a noticeably young population, with 60% of people under the age of 30. We need to provide skills, jobs and hope to the next generation.

Second, the Commonwealth is an important part of the UK’s post-Brexit identity and role in the world. Following the Brexit deal which took effect on 1st January 2021, the UK is refreshing its trading relationships. There are great opportunities here. As an example, India is the giant of the Commonwealth, and is set to become the world’s third largest economy by 2025. I was part of the PM Theresa May’s Trade delegation to India six years ago and have done business there. I know that there is an appreciation of UK standards, services and products, as well as a shift towards regulatory alignment on things like law and accounting procedures. UK-India trade is worth about £25 billion, supporting half a million jobs, and is set to grow.

The UK has been busy negotiating and finalising new trade deals, including an Enhanced Trade partnership with India, which the Department for International Trade (DIT) is working to expand into a comprehensive free-trade agreement – having completed the 4th round of talks in June 2022.

We are also applying to join the 11 nations Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), which includes Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

There is a rationale for prioritising Commonwealth countries. Research shows that intra-Commonwealth trade is 19% cheaper, due to similar legal and regulatory systems, which is sometimes labelled the Commonwealth advantage. It is therefore not surprising that the trade of Commonwealth countries tends to be proportionately greater with members than non-members.

Whilst trade, investment and capital flows are important, the third factor I’d like to discuss are the people-to-people links, across the 2.5 billion people of the Commonwealth, which brings me back to the real achievements of the entire Olympic movement. The association, whether it’s through the Commonwealth or sporting achievement, spans every continent and has diversity at its heart with the people unified through common ties cemented by language and shared experiences and history. For Commonwealth countries these bonds are reflected in the strong diasporas in London, the Midlands, and the rest of the UK.

It’s also especially important to highlight how well the Commonwealth Games have showcased the many strengths of Birmingham and the Midlands. The success of celebrating diversity and inclusion has certainly been one of the stand-out accomplishments of this summer’s games. It should also be recognised that trade brings people together and facilitates cooperation and understanding between nations.

We underappreciate how important the Commonwealth Games and our ties to Commonwealth countries are to our history, but also to our present and future; and how together we will continue to play a key role in championing global trade, diversity and inclusion.

Through the Commonwealth Games, the UK has been in the global spotlight for now, but over the longer term we must capitalise on the powerful network it provides, and the opportunities to enhance business, trade and people-to-people ties.

Dr Nik Kotecha OBE is Founder and Chairman of Morningside Pharmaceuticals Ltd

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