In January 2016 the Round Table held a two-day conference at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, on the theme, ‘The Commonwealth after Malta: the progress of renewal and reform’. The purpose of the conference was to assess the outcomes of the November 2015 Commonwealth summit in Malta, and evaluate some of the Commonwealth’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats in light of that summit.
After some scene-setting by James Mayall, emeritus professor at the University of Cambridge, and Stuart Mole, chair of the Round Table, a first session heard from Nishana Jayawickrama, the summit’s deputy conference secretary, on the proceedings and achievements of the Malta summit, and from Kishva Ambigapathy and Milena Bacalja Perianes on the achievements of the youth forum and the first-ever Commonwealth women’s forum. A keynote address by the retiring Secretary-General, Kamalesh Sharma, offered a robust defence of his record in office and an optimistic assessment of the Commonwealth’s current situation. Later in the conference more nuanced assessments were heard from James Robbins, BBC diplomatic editor, and from Carl Wright and Arif Zaman, both active in Commonwealth organisations.
Further sessions explored the Commonwealth’s role in the ecosystem of international organisations, with contributions from Mélanie Torrent comparing the Commonwealth and La Francophonie and from Steve Cutts (former Commonwealth Assistant Secretary-General) and Amitav Banerji (former head of the Secretariat’s Political Affairs Division) on the wider context; and the prospects for intra-Commonwealth trade and investment, with Mohammad Razzaque presenting the findings of a major study on Commonwealth trade, and Baroness Smith of Newnham and James Carver MEP debating how this tied in with the debate in the UK on EU membership.
All the sessions gave rise to some lively question-and-answer sessions, with much ground covered, a good deal of reflection on the potential for a revitalised Commonwealth, and a number of suggestions put forward for maintaining the momentum of the 2015 summit as the Commonwealth entered a new phase, under its first-ever female Secretary-General.
The Round Table has produced a report of the conference proceedings which are available online.