Lord Marland is the Chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council (CWEIC), which was established in July 2014, with the support of the Commonwealth Secretariat to provide investment and enterprise development within the British Commonwealth countries and beyond.
In this interview with Daily Sun in Lagos, Marland gave more insight and perspectives into what CWEIC is doing to deepen trade and investment facilitation in Nigeria as well as expectations from the government and the Organised Private Sector (OPS) to help the initiative achieve critical mass endorsement.
He expressed optimism that Nigeria’s Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) would also gain from the commonwealth programmes.
According to him, CWEIC intends to leverage its various ongoing programmes to make Nigeria an economic and investment hub in West Africa, considering its huge population and enormous natural resources that have made these objectives imperative.
Purpose of 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. One thing I like about Nigeria is that it has lots of good businesses and entrepreneurs and we have a lot of members, and so it’s for this reason that we created an office which is part of our program of setting up hubs in the key Commonwealth countries. So we have already got such hubs in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, Nigeria, UK, Malta and we will have one in India by next year showing we are enjoying the crest wave in which we are riding on.
Are these hubs programs to support young entrepreneurs?
Not necessarily . But I would like to see a program of Common-wealth 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 to the commonwealth nations because SMEs remain the heartbeat of the economy and what we need is the government to give a go-ahead and sponsors too and we will go ahead and 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 market?
We are interested in training businesses within the Commonwealth and so we would not begin by involving ourselves in helping inter-domestic trade. We only focus on export business across more than 33 countries.
What is CIWEIC doing to raise Intra-common wealth trade from $525bn in 2017 to $1 tr by 2020?
I think it is serious awareness as you know that His Royal Highness, Prince Charles was here recently. This shows that he is committed to Nigeria and considers the country a land of opportunities and a key regional player in West Africa.That presents opportunities for people to sell their products here in Nigeria, and that is why we try to facilitate trade as we are facilitators or enabler and hopefully create an environment where people that want to participate will be given opportunity to participate.
Is Commonwealth to halt challenges faced by developing countries?
Tech-city has become this incredible hub of tech companies and it is quite clear that most countries in that space need to have a tech ecosystem and so we are working with those countries that want to establish tech-hubs in Nigeria. 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 commonwealth country start a tech hub.
So has any hub been set up?
I know that Rwanda are 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.
A recent World Bank report on ease of doing business had noted that Nigeria was down, what advice would you give to the government to ensure the country becomes more investor-friendly?
It is entirely up to the government how it runs her country but a environment for generating entrepreneurial activity is really one way you can incorporate quickly and one can have an off-the-shelf 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 is the UK was speeding up that process when we had good programs of companies starting up and the other thing is 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 the reasons for more countries to 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. At least that is a 19 percent more-competitive.
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.