An inaugural Commonwealth Trade Summit focused on stimulating trade within the group has begun in London. Government trade representatives and business people from the Commonwealth countries have gathered to discuss opportunities for growth and cooperation.
- The two-day event involves a series of roundtable discussions between ministers from over 30 countries and chief executives, followed by a ministerial roundtable, which hopefully will boost further action on strengthening cross-Commonwealth trade, ahead of next year’s Commonwealth Heads of Government summit in the U.K., which is expected to bring together leaders as well as 2,000 businesses from across the Commonwealth.
- The Commonwealth leadership is targeting an increase in intra-Commonwealth trade to $1 trillion by 2020, from $750 billion.
- A Commonwealth accord that recognises the benefits of trade within the block, and provides the framework for potential trade initiatives between groupings within it is achievable in the next couple of years.
- India is taking part in the Trade Meet.
- India has robust trade relations with many Commonwealth countries, most notably with the UK, Canada, Australia, Singapore, New Zealand and Malaysia.
- India took part in panel discussions on the ease of doing business, and creating an export economy.
- India is thought to be particularly well placed when it comes to taking a leading role in driving forward the Commonwealth growth, given that it along with the U.K. is one of the few Commonwealth nations that have established trade relations stretched across the globe, while many other Commonwealth members are regionally focused.
- In addition to providing opportunities to discuss trade with long-standing partners, including in Africa, where India has the established channel of the India-Africa Summit, Commonwealth summits provide an opportunity for India to converse with the smaller island states.
Related information: Commonwealth of Nations
- The Commonwealth of Nations is an intergovernmental organisation of 52 member states that are mostly former territories of the British Empire.
- The Commonwealth operates by intergovernmental consensus of the member states, organised through the Commonwealth Secretariat and non-governmental organisations, organised through the Commonwealth Foundation.
- It was formally constituted by the London Declaration in 1949, which established the member states as “free and equal”.
- The symbol of this free association is Queen Elizabeth II who is the Head of the Commonwealth.
- The Queen is also the monarch of 16 members of the Commonwealth, known as Commonwealth realms.
- The other Commonwealth members have different heads of state: 31 members are republics and five are monarchies with a different monarch.
- The nations entered into the Commonwealth do so voluntarily, and the government of any member nation can withdraw at any time, without consequence or obligation. Although they have no legal obligations to one another and are entirely separate entities.
How do countries join the Commonwealth?
- For a nation to join the Commonwealth, it must first recognize Elizabeth II as the head of the Commonwealth.
- Other criteria are equally important – racial equality, and the embrace of world peace, liberty, human rights, equality, and free trade.
- A member-state must also be sovereign, accept English as the primary means of communication within the Commonwealth, and have a desire among its citizens to be a part of the organization.
- As of 1997, a nation must have a ”direct constitutional link” with any current member-state. Usually, countries within the Commonwealth are former British colonies, but some countries, such as Samoa, Papua New Guinea and Namibia, are more closely linked to current member-states such as Australia, New Zealand, or South Africa, rather than to any historical allegiance or constitutional tie to England.
- The only member-states to have been neither a British colony nor have any link with a current member-state are Mozambique and Rwanda, two controversial cases that the Commonwealth Secretariat called ”exceptional”
- Currently, South Sudan is the only country vying for membership.
- Myanmar and Aden (part of now Yemen) are the only former British colonies who elected not to join the Commonwealth.
- In the past some states have been suspended due to their inability to abide by the democratic principles outlined in the Harare Declaration, such as Nigeria, Pakistan and Zimbabwe.
Why Join the Commonwealth?
- There are certain advantages to being a member-state, for instance, consular services exist for countries in good standing.
- Commonwealth citizens who are stuck in a country that is not represented at a consulate by their government can get representation and a temporary ”commonwealth citizen” passport issued at a British Embassy.
- In the case of certain nations, like Canada and Australia, bi-lateral agreements exist where citizens of either country in a third nation can get representation by the other country in cases where it is impossible to be served by your own ambassador.
What does the Commonwealth Do?
- The Commonwealth aims to create strong links between rich and poor countries, bringing together a variety of religious faiths and demographics in one institution.
- Although the group has been criticized for being more symbolic than useful, it has helped to create strong diplomatic ties between its oldest members.
- The organization has also been criticized for not acting in line with its guiding principles, letting human rights abuses and anti-democratic activities run rampant within its member-states without taking action.
- It is also said to be more beneficial to Commonwealth countries which are ”in good standing,” such as Canada and Australia, for instance. It is felt that there are more opportunities and advantages to the citizens of these nations as opposed to those of other Commonwealth nations.
- However it offers the opportunity for smaller nations to sit down with larger nations at the bi-annual Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which allows them to make their projects and concerns known.
What are the Commonwealth Games?
- Every four years, the Commonwealth of Nations puts together the Commonwealth Games, hosted in a different city and organized by the Commonwealth Games Federation.
- 71 nations participate, including the 53 Commonwealth Nations as well as some dependent territories.
- Australia, Canada, England, New Zealand, Scotland and Wales are the only teams to have participated in every Commonwealth Games since their inauguration.
- Scotland, Wales, England and Northern Ireland each play under their own banner instead of under the UK.
- The next Commonwealth Games will be held in Gold Coast, Australia, in 2018.
Who are the members of the Commonwealth?
Of the 53 Commonwealth States, the following 32 are republics:
- Sierra Leone
- South Africa
- Sri Lanka
- Trinidad and Tobago
5 are monarchies with heads of state other than the Reigning Monarch of England:
16 are Commonwealth Realms, which are presided over by Queen Elizabeth II (and in the future, her heirs):
- Antigua and Barbuda
- The Bahamas
- New Zealand
- Papua New Guinea
- Saint Kitts and Nevis
- Saint Lucia
- Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
- Solomon Islands
- The United Kingdom