Thirty-one of the Commonwealth’s 54 member countries are small states – mostly with populations well under two million. These countries are acutely susceptible to natural disasters and economic and financial shocks including sharp fluctuations in world trade. A lack of domestic market diversification and limited human and institutional capacity compound these inherent challenges.
Commonwealth Heads of Government have acknowledged that the global economic crisis which began in 2007–2008 disproportionately affected small states. Leaders concluded that these countries have been slow to recover, have struggled to meet development goals and are burdened with high debt. In addition, many small states must cope with climate change and rising sea levels, further limiting their prospects for economic growth and prosperity.
The Commonwealth has long been recognised as a champion of small states. We are at the forefront of policy research and global advocacy to build resilience, alleviate debt burdens, improve access to finance, enhance trade terms and respond to climate change and other disasters.
Working in co-operation with a wide range of international organisations – from the World Bank to the Alliance of Small Island States – we provide long-term technical assistance and promote partnerships that allow small states to unite and collaborate. For example, we supported a partnership between regional organisations in the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and Pacific that is helping countries address climate financing and sustainable development concerns.
Since 2010, we have convened the Global Biennial Conference on Small States, which continues to deepen international understanding on the developmental issues facing these countries.
The Commonwealth’s assistance and advocacy is helping to put small states on a path to sustainable development, by helping governments address challenges caused by their vulnerability and deliver on the priority needs of their citizens.
We have been an active participant in forums such as the International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014, which adopted the ‘Samoa Pathway’ to reduce the marginalisation of these countries, as well as the International Conference on Financing for Development in 2015 in Ethiopia, where a financing for development framework was agreed that specifically recognises the special needs of small states.
This broader engagement has ensured that small states – both Commonwealth and non-member states – have received greater international attention, including increased recognition that their resilience must be strengthened if they are to prosper and thrive.