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Resurrecting Commonwealth

Context

  • India will be hosting Charles, the Prince of Wales this week with an agenda to revive the future of the Commonwealth.

The reason of visit

  • Charles is coming to India to invite Prime Minister Narendra Modi to attend the Commonwealth Summit scheduled in London in April 2018.
  • Charles stopped over in three other commonwealth countries — Singapore, Brunei and Malaysia before arriving in Delhi.

The Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting is significant for many reasons:

  • Charles, with his considerable interest in Commonwealth affairs in recent years, is likely to take over from Queen Elizabeth as the head of the organization. As the largest country in the Commonwealth, India will have a key role in formalizing this transition.
  • Britain’s renewed interest in the Commonwealth amidst its looming separation from the European Union is important. London is making a big push to reconnect with its historic partners in the Commonwealth and the Anglo sphere.
  • Charles declared that “the Commonwealth should, and does, have a pivotal role” in resolving contemporary global problems like climate change, urbanization and sustainable development.
  • The Commonwealth forum can draw on a uniquely wide range of national contexts, experiences, traditions and, above all, professional associations for the solutions.

India’s new possibilities with the Commonwealth

  • A group of realists dealing with the foreign policy of India would want to explore with Britain the idea of a long-term partnership between Delhi and London in rejuvenating the Commonwealth.
  • Delhi’s lack of interest in the Commonwealth in recent decades was reinforced by the preoccupation with managing the complex relationships with its immediate neighbours, reordering its ties with the major powers, and becoming part of regional institutions like the Association of the South East.

Importance of India

  • Britain is especially keen to see Indian participation at the prime ministerial level given that Indian PMs have been absent from the last three summits, sending others instead to represent the country.
  • This is perhaps an indication of the low priority New Delhi attaches to the Commonwealth despite affirming the continuing relevance of this comity of 52 nations.
  • It will be incumbent upon the UK to address the growing skepticism among members. Many member states believe its sustainability, relevance and efficacy has deteriorated.
  • But as UK prepares for life post-Brexit and seeks fresh pastures beyond the Continent, it can ill-afford to allow this state of affairs to continue. More so as it is looking to leverage the Commonwealth in general and India in particular to boost trade.

Trade and services ties 

  • Post-Brexit, the two countries want to expand their bilateral trade which was pegged at $14.02 billion in 2015-16. The two sides have also been looking to work out a trade deal.
  • According to a Commonwealth report titled ‘The Commonwealth in the Unfolding Global Trade Landscape’, trade within this grouping was pegged at $592 billion in 2013 and is projected to surpass the $1 trillion mark by 2020.
  • Asian members account for 55 per cent of intra-Commonwealth trade with India, Malaysia and Singapore contributing to over half the total intra-Commonwealth goods exports.
  • As a founding member, India is the largest member and the fourth largest contributor to its budget after the UK, Australia and Canada. Besides, India shares close ties with many Commonwealth members including the African nations and island states.
  • As the UK works to persuade India into playing a greater role in the Commonwealth, it needs to put forth the reason that India can generate more influence for itself and increase its soft power by staying as a part of Commonwealth.
  • New Delhi clearly would want something more substantive from the UK in return for backing it on the Commonwealth reforms front.
  • A sticking point between the two governments has been restrictive visas for Indian students and IT professionals.
  • However, with 10 Downing firm in its resolve not to grant concessions, it’s unlikely to bag a trade pact with India.

Why did India stay away from the last three Commonwealth summits?

  • The Indian leadership stayed away from the last three Commonwealth summits in Malta, Colombo and Perth for one reason or another.
  • Jawaharlal Nehru understood that the Commonwealth and British connection gave India a measure of flexibility in a world engulfed by the Cold War.
  • It allowed him to maintain a substantive political and economic link to the West even as he refused to become part of its alliance system.
  • After the Second World War, Britain saw the Indian connection as a critical factor in sustaining its great power role in the international system.
  • London was eager to have Nehru’s India join the post-War British military arrangements under the aegis of the Commonwealth, but had to live with his refusal and settle for a less ambitious forum.
  • With the strategic trajectories of India and Britain diverging in the last few decades ruined the bilateral relationship between Delhi and London. The falling off the Commonwealth was inevitable.

What is in the store?

  • The essence of the original idea that the Commonwealth can serve the interests of both countries has not just survived but has come back to the fore today.
  • For Britain, that is reinventing itself politically after Brexit. The Commonwealth has now become a significant forum to recalibrate London’s international relations.
  • For India, the Commonwealth is the most natural theatre to demonstrate its credibility as a “leading power”. With a globally dispersed membership from the Caribbean to the South Pacific and Southern Africa to East Asia, the Commonwealth can easily reinforce India’s expanding international footprint.

How to resurrect Commonwealth?

  • An equitable framework for bilateral burden-sharing, a strong commitment to promote the collective interests of the Commonwealth members including sustainable growth and climate change, and joint contributions to the global public good will become mandatory for the Commonwealth to function.

Commonwealth post BREXIT

  • Post Brexit, Britain’s future relationship with its fellow Commonwealth members assumed both a greater significance and of a greater degree of uncertainty.
  • To the Commonwealth, Britain was a powerful and privileged member within the EU trading bloc, with considerable opportunities for diplomatic leverage in broader Commonwealth interests.
  • The Commonwealth is not and never has been an alternative to the EU. Its historic links of language, common law, parliamentary structures and culture capture all imaginations, so that “Remainers” also appear in the ranks of supporters of this unique network.
  • In an increasingly divided Britain, the Commonwealth represents a rare opportunity for the UK government to find a consensus on foreign policy.
  • The developing nations will lose a significant voice within the European Union following the UK’s exit. The UK has always acted as a conduit for the interests of Commonwealth countries in the EU, in particular in relation to so-called ACP (African, Caribbean and Pacific) countries, which enjoy preferential trade access to the EU market in part thanks to the UK’s efforts.
  • Instead the UK will have to ensure delivery of tangible outcomes over its full two years as Chair in Office, until handing over the Commonwealth baton to Malaysia in 2020.
  • The summit theme of “Towards a Common Future” will focus on enhancing the lives of Commonwealth citizens by looking at issues of central importance to all Commonwealth countries: trade, security, climate change, governance and democracy.

What is Commonwealth of Nations?

  • An association of 53 nations united by ties to former British rule, the Commonwealth of Nations is a group aligned to create ongoing prosperity in these countries.
  • Countries span Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe and the Pacific and are diverse – they are amongst the world’s largest, smallest, richest and poorest countries.
  • Thirty-one of our members are classified as small states – countries with a population size of 1.5 million people or less and larger member states that share similar characteristics with them.
  • All members have an equal say – regardless of size or economic stature. This ensures even the smallest member countries have a voice in shaping the Commonwealth.

Why was it created?

  • As nations began the process of succeeding from the British Empire in the early part of the 1900s, it was created, largely, to ease the process of British decolonization. It was seen as a way of maintaining global unity through shared language, history, and culture despite growing independence and self-governance of former British colonies.
  • Overall, 2.328 billion people belong to the Commonwealth, representing one-third of the world population and one-quarter of its total landmass, at approximately 30 million sq.km. Despite massive geographic and demographic differences, these countries are said to be united through their common values of democracy, human rights, and the rule of law.
  • 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.

India- UK relation in the present day context:

  • Indian mission in the UK: The Indian mission in the UK on May 22, 2017 organized the first community-wide anti-terrorism pledge.
  • The pledge is taken by Indian embassies and missions around the world to coincide with former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s death anniversary on May 21, marked as Anti-Terrorism Day in India.
  • The Indian High Commissioner to UK was of the opinion that the scourge of terrorism affects innocent lives not just in one country but across the globe.
  • Post-Brexit Britain: India’s significance in post-Brexit Britain will depend on the terms of negotiation between the European Union and Britain.
  • Hard Brexit will give full power to Britain to control its borders and make new trade deals and this helps to seal the FTA between the UK and India on a priority basis.
  • If the UK accepts soft Brexit, then the European Union will insist on agreeing to the free movement of goods, services, capital and people.
  • In this scenario there isn’t much improvement in the UK-India relation nor will India have a significant role in post soft-Brexit Britain.

 Post-Brexit opportunities in which India and the UK business relations can develop:

  • Getting rid of EU (European Union) regulations, Britain will be more flexible and increase trade between the two nations as a result.
  • GDP growth: As one of the fastest growing economies with a GDP growth projection of 42.9% (period growth at constant prices) between 2016 and 2021, there are ample investment opportunities in India.
  • Telecommunications: Globally, India ranked number 3 in 2016 in terms of investment in telecommunications at US$13.1 bn (constant prices), making India one of the best suitors to invest in the UK’s telecommunication sector.
  • Tariff free: In the absence of the EU-India free trade agreement, the UK expects to benefit from tariff free trade with India.
  • Export: Britain will be able to increase its exports to India by more than £2 billion per year after Brexit by cutting EU red tape.
  • There is significant potential for the growth in the export of pearls and precious stones from the UK to India, cars and car parts and alcohol.
  • Import: Imports from India to the UK will rise by around £1 billion, meaning the UK’s balance of trade will be improved.

India and the UK Post-Brexit business challenges:

  • Terrorism:  In the context of Brexit, unlike the United States’ contemporary view, India continues to be hyphenated with Pakistan in London’s outlook.
  • India states the fact that bilateral relations went beyond the economic realm to issues such as security and terrorism were not being heeded in Britain, despite continuous efforts by India over the past decades.
  • Immigration: Immigration policy could stand in the way, among other things. Numbers of students from India have been declining dramatically in recent years.
  • Forcing international students to move back to their homeland can be detrimental to the British economy in the long term.
  • Totalisation agreement: The UK government has also made it mandatory for people to pay a health care surcharge as part of their immigration application.
  • When employees are there for a short term as part of their work, it is important that they get to keep their hard-earned money rather than giving UK thousands of pounds of free money as social security taxes.
  • Therefore, it is important for UK and India to sign the totalisation agreement at the earliest.
  • The totalisation agreement with the UK would have exempted Indian professionals who are working for a certain period of time in the UK from paying those social security taxes if they are paying such taxes in India.  The previous stand given by the British government for not entering into totalisation agreement with India was fiscal pressures as a result of the global financial crisis.
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