The Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC) was established in July 2014 with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat. It is a not-for-profit organisation that focuses on business practices, governance, supporting businesses to create trading opportunities in commonwealth countries. In this interview, the Chairman, CWEIC, Lord Marland, speaks about the activities of the council in Nigeria. Oluchi Chibuzor presents the excerpts:
What is the purpose of your visit to Nigeria?
Nigeria is the second biggest population in the commonwealth and if we do not have a relationship with Nigeria, then it means we are not spreading our tentacles out enough. The thing I like about Nigeria is that they have lots of good businesses and entrepreneurs and we have a lot of members, so we created an office which is part of our program of setting up hubs in the key commonwealth countries. So we have already got them in Kuala, Singapore, Nigeria, UK, Malta and we will have one in India by next year and we are enjoying the crest wave in which we are riding on.
When creating these hubs, are there programs to support young entrepreneurs?
Not necessarily but I would like to see a program of commonwealth first which we are currently doing in the UK, something we are about to do in India and Nigeria where we will help hundreds of Nigerian SMEs export the commonwealth because the SMEs remain the heartbeat of the economy and what we need is the government to give a go-ahead and sponsors and we will organise it. But at the moment, Nigeria is preparing for its general election which will hold next year and so we do not necessarily see that happening until after the election when we can encourage the government to take a view on it.
Asides the SMEs, are you looking at strengthening our domestic markets?
We are interested in training businesses within the commonwealth so we would not begin to involve ourselves in helping inter-domestic trade. We only focus on export business across more than 33 countries.
Intra-commonwealth trade estimated to be $525 billion in 2017 is projected to surpass $1 trillion by 2020, what is the common-wealth doing to attain this feat?
I think it is serious awareness as you know that his Royal Highness, the Prince was here recently. This shows that he is committed to Nigeria and considering that Nigeria is a land of opportunities and a key regional player in West Africa, that presents opportunities for people to sell their products here in Nigeria, that is why we try to facilitate trade as we are facilitators or enabler and hopefully create an environment where people want to participate will be given opportunity to participate.
What is the commonwealth doing to halt challenges faced by developing countries?
It is quite clear that most countries in that space need to have a tech eco-system and so we are working with those countries that want to establish tech-hubs. It is like the old market system whereby you aggregate a whole load of tech companies in a near space that may or may not compete with each other but the energy created just by the bunch of them in one space leads to great innovation and we recommend that every common-wealth country start a tech hub.
So has any hub been set up?
I know that Rwanda is considering it and I know that Nigeria is very good on tech and that could happen. It is not a process that happens with a click of your fingers, rather it takes the government’s intervention to achieve it.
The World Bank report on Ease of Doing Business released recently showed that Nigeria didn’t perform better. Is there any advice on what can be done to improve the country’s ranking on the index and what do you think can be done to ensure the country becomes more investor-friendly?
It is entirely up to the government how it runs her country but an environment for generating entrepreneurial activity is really one way you can incorporate quickly and one can have an off-the-shelve legal process and then you can get going. Again, those are not always easy to achieve. One of the things I achieve as a minister in the UK was speeding up that process when we had good programs of companies starting up and the other thing was to have a tax regime that promotes entrepreneurship.
I remember the Margaret Thatcher days where she started the BIS scheme which is now Enterprise Investment Scheme (EIS) which involves a seed fund from investor and in return he/she will get a tax relief on his investment which will be free from capital gains. Those are compelling and attractive initiatives that allow people to think about taking a risk of investing in a new company and it is been transformation all the way in the UK and I am sure it will be like that in other countries too.
What are you doing to encourage more organisations and individuals join the CWEIC?
Our activity is enabling communication between corporates and government in a number of countries and our job is to present opportunities and to allow our business members to take advantage of it. Not everyone takes advantage of opportunities for variety of reasons, but that does not mean we would not do that and the commonwealth is a remarkable space as it has the benefit of all countries speaking English. There has been this certain constant flow between Nigeria and the UK and other English-speaking countries.
Intra-Africa trade is still very low, is the CWEIC coming into that area to encourage trade?
Only by dent of the fact that there are probably about 16 countries that are part of the commonwealth in Africa and they know each other well that we do. We have got lots of other forums in engendering African businesses. There is no doubt Africa is becoming an important place in terms of its growth and development with lots of investments.