Round Table Conference: “The Commonwealth after Malta”
The Round Table post-CHOGM Conference, “The Commonwealth after Malta: the progress of renewal and reform”, took place at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, from 7 to 8 January 2016.
While many had spoken about the success of the Malta Heads of Government Meeting, academics, current and former Commonwealth officials and Commonwealth watchers gathered to look at how to make the most of those gains through long-term goals, understanding global trends, and recommendations and tips for the incoming Secretary-General.
James Mayall, Fellow of Sidney Sussex College, opened the conference by pointing out that the “tectonic plates” holding the international community are shifting and that the Commonwealth needs to play to its strengths.
Professor Mayall said that the Commonwealth’s origins were “accidental”, but it was a “happy accident” of independent states.
Round Table Chairman, Stuart Mole, who had written about the Malta Summit for the Round Table, described the host as a “small country with a big attitude”.
The first session, entitled “The Malta CHOGM – new beginnings”, echoed the Chairman’s comments and reflected on the achievements of the Malta meeting.
Panellists and participants vigorously discussed the role and timetable of the various fora which had taken place around the Heads of Government deliberations and the addition of the Women’s Forum to the sessions on Youth, People and Business.
Much of the discussion focused on the timing for the meetings and whether the fora should also move to a different time of year and incorporate reviews to follow through on their deliberations.
Concerns were also raised about making sure the deliberations of participants at the Youth, People’s, Women’s and Business fora allowed for cross-fertilisation and joined-up thinking between each Forum and also enabled these deliberations to make an impact on the Heads of Government’s proceedings.
Some of the most animated discussion came over the name of the Heads’ meeting – CHOGM or Commonwealth Summit? There was much debate over how to move on to holding Commonwealth Summits in the future when some leaders preferred the ‘CHOGM’ label.
Some participants suggested that the incoming Secretary-General draw on institutional memory before setting up another high-level review of the Commonwealth.
Force for good
Session two dealt with “The Commonwealth and other international organisations: a force for global good?”
Panellists Steve Cutts (UN Assistant Secretary-General, formerly of the Commonwealth Secretariat), Melanie Torrent (Université Paris Diderot) and Amitav Banerji (Projects Director of the Global Leadership Foundation and former Commonwealth Political Division Director) discussed the Commonwealth in the context of the world’s global institutions.
The panellists and contributors from the floor pointed out the need for the Commonwealth to define its role and objectives more clearly, use its leverage on some of the world’s pressing problems and focus on and play to its strengths.
Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma made a presentation and dealt with a Q&A session on Thursday evening to look at the Malta CHOGM and after.
He said that the Commonwealth was a vibrant, contemporary organisation which other nations now wanted to join.
He said that he had asked leaders to promote the Commonwealth more when they meet bilaterally and also promote it more to their citizens. He also outlined other decisions from the Malta Meeting, including getting Heads to agree to meet at a date earlier in the year.
Click here to hear Kamalesh Sharma’s presentation (39 mins).
Trade and the future
On Friday, the first session turned to “Intra-Commonwealth trade and investment: Is there a Commonwealth advantage?”
Mohammad Razzaque, Head of the International Trade Policy Section at the Commonwealth Secretariat, outlined the details of the Commonwealth Trade Review of which he had been the lead author.
Dr Razzaque said that intra-Commonwealth trade had been impressive, despite the rise of China, and that this trade between Commonwealth nations is expected to rise to $2.75 trillion by 2030.
Discussion from the panellists and from the floor then looked at the validity of debating the idea of EU versus Commonwealth trade in the context of the Brexit question and at what would be needed to encourage further overall intra-Commonwealth trade in the future.
The final session looked at “Beyond Malta: Re-vitalising the Commonwealth”.
Chair of the Commonwealth Association, Patsy Robertson, moderated a lively panel session with equally lively contributions from the floor looking at ways to the take the Commonwealth forward.
Suggestions included the need to move on from “meaningless jargon”, arguments for and against continuing the Commonwealth in its current form, how to develop a “virtual version” of the Commonwealth, and how to maintain the Malta momentum and support the incoming Secretary-General.
In wrapping up the Conference, Round Table Chairman Stuart Mole suggested a gathering one year after the Malta meeting and in between all biennial meetings to keep things on track.
He also suggested the Commonwealth draw on its interfaith make-up to inform its work on tackling extremism, integration of the work of the Youth Forum, People’s Forum, Women’s Forum and Business Forum, and revisiting the Commonwealth’s presence in New York and at the United Nations.
Former Commonwealth official, British government official and current Round Table Treasurer, Mark Robinson, suggested work on bringing Indian interest back into the Commonwealth, to help find a “way in” for more Commonwealth contributions from new Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and to encourage the current British Government to step up its interest in the Commonwealth.
A transcript of the Conference proceedings will be available soon.
Click here for the final Commonwealth communiqué.
Click here for the Commonwealth Trade Review.
Click here for the live Twitter feed from the Conference.