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Economic match-making for the Commonwealth

Trade, investment and debt management within the Commonwealth is becoming increasingly data-powered. 

From India to Grenada, the 53 members of the Commonwealth of Nations (informally known as the Commonwealth) encompass 2.4 billion people across some of the world’s richest and poorest, smallest and largest countries. A legacy of the British Empire, the Commonwealth now forms a significant economic and political network.

Intra-commonwealth trade currently amounts to £560 billion (US$700 billion), a figure that is set to rise to £700 billion in 2020, and potentially hit £2,000 billion by 2030, Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland believes. She has spearheaded a digital agenda to facilitate economic growth, trade and investment that features two major initiatives, the Innovation Hub and Meridian.

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland
(Photo: thecommonwealth.org)

Opened earlier in 2019 by the Commonwealth Secretariat, the Innovation Hub is a public data service and source for Commonwealth members. “When I said I was going to create the hub, people laughed, saying I had no money and a tiny organisation,” said Scotland. “[This may be true], but we can create partnerships and [use] data. We have huge power if we bring the Commonwealth together as a multilateral agency. Integrating and aggregating data is of critical importance, because it helps our member states make better policy.”

Rich data pool

With assistance from Bloomberg and Infosys, the hub pools a huge amount of data sets from and for all Commonwealth nations, highlighting private and public sector trends.

“We’ve created a ‘Match.com’ for Commonwealth trade. Our countries can better see what, and with whom, they are trading, and where opportunities and blockages exist. [If it wasn’t public], this data would be worth millions. Our countries are very excited by this real-time info,” Scotland remarked.

Even before the Innovation Hub, intra-Commonwealth trade was 19 per cent cheaper and 20 per cent easier to do business than outside the Commonwealth, due to shared language, legal systems and parliamentary structure, according to the Commonwealth Trade Review.

Scotland stated that thanks to their shared legal landscapes, they are creating Commonwealth best practice framework contracts for energy, infrastructure and mining that will encourage foreign investment, adding: “If in the coming years our 22 Commonwealth benchmarks for addressing corruption are adopted, it could be a real game changer for inward investment.”

Digital debt

One of the crown jewels of the secretariat is its debt management system, which it has run since 1985, for non-Commonwealth members as well. The system recently moved to a new state-of-the-art digital platform, Meridian, launched in June of this year, and unlike its predecessor, it covers both public and private debt.

Meridian’s data helps countries better plan for the shocks, especially Commonwealth countries with debt-to-GDP ratios of 60-80 per cent or Caribbean nations who are particularly exposed to natural disasters, Ms Scotland said. “If you’re a debt manager, it’s a very exciting time. It’s more than just figures; it’s how we are going to get the right hospitals, schools, infrastructure system and how we are going to reach our sustainable development goals. And if we don’t deal with this debt, we are not going to survive.”

This article is sourced from fDi Magazine.