Reeling off a slew of new initiatives and agreements announced in the 12-page Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting Communiqué issued here last Friday, Prime Minister Theresa May told the closing press conference that "in all these ways and more, the Commonwealth has found its voice, we can look forward to a bright future with confidence".
The UK succeeded Malta as chair-in-office when the 53-nation meeting opened at Buckingham Palace by the Queen last Thursday, with Rwanda and Samoa to host 2020 and 2022 summits. The much discussed issue of who was to follow the Queen as head of Commonwealth, and when, was resolved and during the leaders' Windsor Castle retreat on Friday, the related 'Leaders' Statement' saying that "the next head of the Commonwealth shall be His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales.... the Commonwealth is a global network.... with Her Majesty the Queen as its head."
"Our Declaration on the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda for Trade and Investment will help to expand investment and boost intra-Commonwealth trade to a value of $2 trillion by 2030," the Prime Minister told journalists. "We will play a leading role in shaping the future of global trade policy, this includes stepping up efforts to share the technical expertise to enable small and developing states to benefit from the growth of free and fair trade. We agreed the critical importance of the full social, economic and political participation of all our citizens for democracy and sustainable development to thrive."
The UK will extend up to £15m to help Commonwealth countries strengthen their cybersecurity capabilities and help to tackle criminal groups and hostile state actors in support to the Commonwealth Cyber Declaration emerging from the summit.
Addressing the launch of the three-day Commonwealth Business Forum on 16 April, hosted by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, with 800 participants from 70 nations including over 20 political leaders, Mrs May said that "greater use of these international standards across the Commonwealth will reduce the costs of trade between members, as well as with partners beyond the Commonwealth... the UK will be funding an all-new Commonwealth Standards Network, which will support developing countries in particular... and a Trade Facilitation Programme (for) assistance to selected Commonwealth countries in implementing the World Trade Organisation's Trade Facilitation Agreement".
"Full implementation of the WTO agreement is estimated to reduce trade costs by up to 16% for the less-developed countries, cut the average time needed to import goods by 47% and the time taken to export by as much as 91%, a huge boost for businesses across the Commonwealth."
"If our family of nations is to realise its full potential, we must take action to boost women's access to economic opportunity. Many members have already signed up to the Buenos Aires Declaration on Trade and Women's Economic Empowerment but we can go further. Over the next two years, the UK will work with the International Trade Centre to deliver SheTrades Commonwealth to help countries break down gender barriers in international trade, deliver targeted interventions in a number of countries, provide training for women entrepreneurs, connecting them to market and investment opportunities and helping firms overcome barriers to engaging with women-owned businesses."
Speaking exclusively to this paper CWEIC's chief executive Richard Burge said
that "after the success of the Forum it is important to highlight the Commonwealth-wide resurgence of interest that the group of nations is receiving. It is becoming more and more evident that our similar language and legal and regulatory systems all work to create a very unique network for business. The Forum highlighted that there is opportunity within the Commonwealth for everyone ‒ not just large economies but for small states, island nations like Malta and developing economies alike. We also explored the use and opportunities for green finance focusing on how it can help develop nations to diversify their economic growth."
"Making trade easier across borders can be facilitated by developing technologies, such as the use of Distributed Ledgers and establishing trust in transactions through peer-to-peer trade finance platforms. CWEIC is establishing a Distributed Ledger inquiry to investigate its uses in trade facilitation. CWEIC is looking to further expand our connections outside of the UK; with hubs in Malaysia and Nigeria, we hope to expand on these links in the near future by developing more international partnerships and curating more events overseas."
"We will also assess the potential for a Commonwealth Identity and Document Assurance Exchange and have initiated a Commonwealth Fund for Social Impact from Technology and Innovation, to finance young entrepreneurs to use innovative technology to create impact directly linked to the 2030 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals."
In another exclusive interview, Michael Sippitt, chair of the Commonwealth Environmental Investment Platform stated that "key outcomes of the Forum were an increased profile, many new contacts, extra knowledge and insights about business needs and opportunities and the chance to talk on a world stage about the big challenges facing the world and future generations. Our future focus is building more awareness among investors about sustainable investment options plus continuing to link businesses and investors around the world to help innovative technologies and sustainability-focused projects. We shall continue liaising with the new Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub in Mauritius set up at the last CHOGM in Malta."
"I see Malta as a key route to global investors thanks to its expertise about financial services and wealth management, combined with its exceptional EU and Commonwealth role alongside Cyprus as the continuing Commonwealth voices in the EU after Brexit. Relations between the EU and the Commonwealth are vital to both, so Malta has real opportunities as a broker nation between these huge markets. The CEIP hopes to see that this includes a strong Maltese influence towards sustainability objectives. We believe financial services professionals still need more awareness and expertise about green finance and sustainable investments and Malta can be a world leader in such markets."
"In my Forum presentation I warned about the impact on developing countries of the digital economy in particular on employment, likely to be very divisive on capability to participate in global trade with automation displacing millions of workers from low-skilled and low-wage work over the next generation."
The Commonwealth Innovation Hub partnered by the Global Innovation Fund - one of the many lead initiatives emerging from the Summit "will be a digital platform to tap and unleash our 53 nations' innovative wealth", the Commonwealth Secretary-General, Baroness Scotland QC told a press conference. "This quantum leap will meet needs for sharing information, toolkits, cutting edge solutions, news on what works and what doesn't".
She also forecast a huge potential for the Commonwealth Blue Charter launched by leaders with Action groups tasked with specific activities conducted at local regional and international levels and Secretariat mandated to take forward a Commonwealth Blue Charter plan of action.
While environmental activists welcomed the leaders' support for a strong boost to renewable energies - as well as UK's announcement about joining the 130-nation International Solar Alliance ‒ the final communiqué's climate change commitments were slammed as inadequate, in contrast to the very strongly worded and ambitious language of the Youth Forum's Declaration.