Learning from the Past – Commonwealth Initiatives to build on!

The former Prime Minister of Malta, Dr. Lawrence Gonzi during the Roundtable organized in conjunction with the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in 2015 cited the proceedings of a Conference organized by the Royal Commonwealth Society in 2013 where he quoted Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Former Foreign Secretary, UK) who argued that:

The EU and Commonwealth are two utterly different creatures, and they’re meant to be different. The Commonwealth is a body of countries with certain shared backgrounds, a common language, common values, and it seeks to reach common positions via discussion on issues of interest. However, the Commonwealth doesn’t aspire to go much beyond discussion, while the EU is concerned more with power”.

The point that the Commonwealth does not aspire to go much beyond discussion needs some focus now while the ‘family of nations’ prepare for the forthcoming CHOGM meeting in 2018. As mentioned in my previous post, the remarks of India’s focal point for the Commonwealth, the Joint Secretary of Ministry of External Affairs, during the opening of a discussion meeting that Commonwealth is not such an influential multilateral entity needs some rethink. It may be true that the Commonwealth might have lost some relevance during the past few years but one cannot ignore the role it played previously. Two examples are case in point!

It is the Commonwealth that initiated pioneering programme, the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) initiative to deal with issues of debt relief to many poor countries.The “Valletta Statement on Multilateral Trade” that was adopted by the Commonwealth in response to restrictions imposed by the European Union is an indication how the ‘family of nations’ can certainly come together to deal with critical issues impacting them on multilateral trading system, comprising both developed and developing ones.

With the recent outcomes of World Trade Organization’s Ministerial meeting held in Buenos Aires that questions the effectiveness of the trade body in pursuing multilateral trade agenda and with India announcing its plans for organize an informal meeting of trade ministers in India during February 2018, it is time for India as well as the Commonwealth to discuss common agenda on trade issues. Also, India becoming the Chair of G20 in 2018 is an opportunity on hand for both India and the Commonwealth to be used.

With some success in effectively using regional organizations to its advantage, the Commonwealth now can look at further strengthening its reach and influence by calling for a ‘Economic Impact Audit’ that is needed to deal with support within and across the member states of the Commonwealth but also with processes such as the G8. The forthcoming CHOGM 2018 could be an opportunity not to be missed to formalize these.

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