The Commonwealth has launched three initiatives to boost intra-Commonwealth trade and investment. On the margins of the 21st Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast, Australia, it formed the Intra-Commonwealth Small and Medium-sized Enterprises Association (ICSA) and the Commonwealth Alliance for Young Entrepreneurs (CAYE) in Asia-Pacific, as well as unveiling a trade portal to help businesses.
“The launch of these Associations is taking place at an auspicious time in the face of profound changes to the global trade landscape where the world economy continues to experience an unprecedented slowdown and new challenges are confronting small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) and the traditional way of doing business,” said Commonwealth Secretary-General Patricia Scotland, as she opened the event.
“This slowdown unfolds at a time when international trade is intended to play a central role in achieving the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals and is likely to effect the trade-related targets if countries do not find new ways of doing business and improving the market opportunities for MSMEs and young people, who are the triggers for economic growth in our countries.”
Business leaders from Asia and the Pacific attended the launch and heard how strengthened intra-Commonwealth trade and investment cooperation had the potential to help sustain the recovery in global trade growth.
The chief executive officer for Samoa’s Chamber of Trade and Industry, Hobart Va’ai said, “This new development is huge potential in our part of the world. In the Pacific region SMEs make up the bulk of our economy, we’re constantly trying to find ways to develop them, give them capacity, because in the long run it will be beneficial for our economies.”
Thirty-one of the 53 Commonwealth nations are small states and delegates to the launch reminded the audience about the importance of building networks to create opportunities.
“A lot of it is around technical assistance and shared learning,” said Alisi Tuqa, acting CEO of Pacific Island Private Sector Organisation (PIPSO). “Having spoken to people, our challenges are similar. Access to finance for SMEs in the Pacific is a challenge, for example. Because our sectors are predominantly around agriculture, fisheries and tourism, which are seen as very high risk, more so now than ever before because of climate change and disaster risk management, a lot of the financial institutions find it quite difficult to provide support. Also, the SMEs don’t have the capacity to put together simple documents, business plans for banks for example, so we’re hoping through shared networking with others who have faced these challenges, we can overcome them through shared learning.”
Professor Mwinyikione Mwinyihija is the executive director of Africa Leather and Leather Products Institute. His organisation’s mandate is to follow up on the trade deal struck by 44 African Union members in Kigali, Rwanda, known as the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) He told the audience that Secretary-General Scotland and the Secretariat showed what it meant to be part of the Commonwealth family and praised them for ‘a job well done’.
“We have 300,000 new emerging youth. These people did not have a platform for innovation and the Commonwealth has come out strongly to support us to develop a regional design studio where this youth could come in and develop their products, so they could go into the global markets. What it means is that now Africa is preparing itself to become productive and competitive at the same time.”
The event provided opportunities for entrepreneurs to network face-to-face, rather than virtually, so they could form human relationships and discuss potential trade at a later date. Delegates heard that 60 per cent of the 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth were under 30 and the youth was the future of trade. Walking around the room, you could overhear conversations of offers to mentor and requests for mentoring, especially among young entrepreneurs.
The director of the Federation of the Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry and ICSA board member, Shafquat Haider, demonstrated the new portal to help SMEs. He said, “This event is about bringing people together and learning from one another. We know that in the major part of the world 80 to 90 per cent are SMEs. To get them connected the biggest and best way is through information technology because it crosses all barriers and has no geographical boundaries, so this portal is the way to go.”
The audience heard that the launch event was the perfect platform to build relationships which would deliver dividends for people and economies across the Commonwealth.
“There’s mutual benefit that will come from it, said Cameron Dick, minister for State Development, Manufacturing and Planning in Queensland. “We are a trading nation. Australia has always been an outward looking, and trading with the world has been so important for us. Starting the links that will build for the future is so important for our nation. We want to say, Queensland as a state and as a nation, we’re open for business, we’re open for investment and we’re open for those business ideas and the entrepreneurial spirit to help our state grow and hopefully benefit other countries as well.”