Commonwealth makes compelling call for free and inclusive trade | Sunday Observer

Commonwealth makes compelling call for free and inclusive trade

President Maithripala Sirisena with Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox  in London.
President Maithripala Sirisena with Britain’s Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox in London.

Each Commonwealth Heads of Governments Meeting (CHOGM) has a distinctive character and makes its own special contribution to advancing Commonwealth cooperation and collective action by the governments and people of the member states to build resilience, and to advance social and economic progress.

The Commonwealth has proven its validity as a values-based organisation and the essence of Commonwealth values is about improving and enhancing the living standards of its people. The Commonwealth is committed to being bold about reinforcing its values and supporting sustainable development goals.

CHOGM 2018, which concluded in London last week, has actively contributed fresh perspectives and wisdom to international discussions and towards finding innovative solutions on matters relating to sustainable development, good trade and economic practices, youth enterprise, small states and last but not the least, the environment.

Delivering the keynote address at the Commonwealth Business Forum (CBF) on April 18 in London, President Maithripala Sirisena called upon everyone at the forum to join hands with the Commonwealth countries as well as others to bring prosperity with best business practices that will promote social responsibility and ensure social inclusiveness.

The Commonwealth has always maintained that global outcomes must be inclusive, equitable and embrace all human communities, irrespective of size and endowment. “We have been in the forefront of global advocacy on behalf of small states, and raising awareness and practical approaches to meet their distinctive needs,” President Sirisena said. This year’s CHOGM theme, ‘Towards a common future’, has generated fruitful discussion and agreement on pragmatic steps the Commonwealth can take in being an exemplary global leader in supporting the global development agenda to ensure a great future for all.

The leaders who spoke at the CBF emphasized that by working together, the forum promote trade and investment as a means to drive economic growth, create jobs, and ensure the prosperity of the citizens.The CHOGM 2018 took place during a critical time when the world determines the path forward on significant global issues, particularly development and climate change. Hence, it has given an opportunity for leaders to discuss and highlight issues of particular concern to the Commonwealth in these matters. As expected several new initiatives were taken during CHOGM, with regard to the issues faced by the member nations, particularly to assist development activities of small states. More than half of Commonwealth countries are small island states which most keenly feel the impact of climate change and their very future may depend on the ability to tap into the ocean economy.

President Sirisena said in his intervention at the Summit, “Our Government’s ‘Blue-Green’ economic plan will ensure the full utilization of the ocean and other natural resources of Sri Lanka in an environment-friendly and sustainable manner.”

The Business Forum was a unique platform for dialogue, bringing together business and government leaders from across the Commonwealth. It was organised by the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, in partnership with the City of London.

Addressing the Business Forum, the President called upon the business communities and civil societies to come together with the states to ensure the successful implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development. He emphasized that to see the successful implementation of the 2030 agenda for sustainable development adopted in 2015 in order to eradicate poverty, to address climate change, and to build peaceful and inclusive societies, the governments, business and civil societies, and communities must come together.

The President noted that while in Sri Lanka, Heads of State and Government are personally leading these efforts with inclusive and sustainable business models that will lead to sustainable development, especially when projected towards the longer term.

He noted that good business practices would be a catalyst for peace and good governance. It should reflect social responsibilities and uphold the rule of law with zero tolerance for corruption. Such practices will enable inclusive growth and common prosperity. “It is encouraging to see an increase in public-private partnerships to deliver the much-needed infrastructure in attaining the Sustainable Development Goals.”

President Sirisena reminded the Business Forum about the need to function as socially responsible partners, to consider as part of their business models to include technical and financial contributions to the implementation phase of the SDGs. In order to help small states get access to global markets, Sri Lanka pledged financial contribution to set up the Small States Trade Financial Facility during the CHOGM. The Fund, Initiated at the CHOGM 2013 Summit in Colombo, recognizing the importance of trade finance for the development of small states and introduced this innovative blended finance support totaling US$ 5 million. It is expected that Commonwealth small states will have access to US$ 300 million of incremental trade finance over a three-year period from this program.

Over 50 entrepreneurs from Sri Lanka, mainly from the small and medium enterprise sector, took part in the Commonwealth Business Forum. They vigorously canvassed for Commonwealth trade and investment opportunities to Sri Lanka, pointing out that the island-nation is the emerging trade and investment hub in South Asia.

The CHOGM achievements important to Sri Lanka include, the Commonwealth Blue Charter on ocean governance, Commonwealth connectivity agenda for trade and investment, declaration on cybercrime and revised Commonwealth guidelines on election observation in member countries.The Business Forum discussed a range of issues affecting businesses across the Commonwealth and developed ideas for promoting inclusive economic growth. It has, no doubt, succeeded in stimulating collaboration between the member nations.

As President Sirisena said at the CBF, “The Plan of Action we agreed upon is inspiring. Therefore it is very important we give life to this ambitious development plan all the way through its successful implementation.”