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Commonwealth Business Forum Gala Dinner: Commonwealth Secretary-General speech

12 November 2013
Speaker: Commonwealth Secretary-General Kamalesh Sharma / Location: Colombo, Sri Lanka
Theme: ‘Partnership for Wealth Creation and Social Development: The Commonwealth, Indian Ocean and SAARC’

Your Excellency, Honourable Ministers, distinguished guests, Commonwealth friends…

It is a pleasure to join you for this vibrant expression of Commonwealth connection.

Let me begin by expressing appreciation for the exceptional welcome we have received from the government and people of Sri Lanka, and from the local business community.

The theme chosen for the 2013 Business Forum reminds us of the strategic position of this island as a hub within the vibrant South Asia economic community.

This perspective gives cause for great optimism when we consider the untapped reservoir of potential offered collectively by Commonwealth commercial and business communities to mobilise economies for growth.

Job creation, diversification, social and economic inclusion: all these factors so essential to building national resilience and sustainable development depend on the wealth creation to which your theme refers. They depend too on partnership to which your theme also refers. And certainly business remains an indispensable partner: we are not only an association that is open for business, we are one that is open to business.

The striking diversity of Commonwealth markets, and the possibilities for partnership offered by our overlapping networks, are given due prominence in our new Commonwealth Charter.

Its opening paragraph is of particular relevance to this gathering, and to the theme chosen for the Business Forum. It reads:

‘We the people of the Commonwealth: Recognising that in an era of changing economic circumstances and uncertainty, new trade and economic patterns, unprecedented threats to peace and security, and a surge in popular demands for democracy, human rights and broadened economic opportunities, the potential of and need for the Commonwealth – as a compelling force for good and as an effective network for co-operation and for promoting development – has never been greater’.

That sums up the rationale for advancing Commonwealth co-operation on trade and investment, and on other business-related aspects of development and wealth creation.

It has been established that doing business with Commonwealth counterparts is greatly eased by our member countries having parliamentary, judicial, legal and educational systems that share many characteristics. It is also helped by the fact that we are all able to communicate in a common language.

The ties we enjoy as a result of our affinity and shared ambitions provide the basis on which we can build partnerships for economic growth and social progress.

And this persuasive case for strengthening Commonwealth business links is being increasingly realised and expressed. Fresh and independent initiatives such as ‘Commonwealth Exchange’ seek to promote the distinctive advantages for trade and investment that can be gained through greater utilisation of our potential.

The Commonwealth Business Council, to whom we all owe a great debt for coordinating and convening this vibrant Forum, can support broader and deeper business-to-business relations in all regions of the Commonwealth.

Many new trading opportunities, joint ventures and mutually beneficial enterprises can flow from introductions made and alliances forged while our global business community is gathered here in Colombo.

There is increasing scope, using innovative tools such as ‘Commonwealth Connects’ - our own online platform offering workspaces of interest to business communities - for collaboration and interaction to be carried forward in real-time wherever we may be. We are currently developing hubs for health and education to strengthen these crucial social sectors, and where opportunities will arise for business to support us and for us to support business.

Meanwhile, the agenda for CHOGM later this week addresses issues of such vital interest to the business community as debt sustainability, trade finance, unlocking resources for the environment, and country-to-country technical co-operation.

A fine example of how we bring our influence to bear is our flourishing partnership with the G20. There are five Commonwealth members of the G20. By collaborating with them as a preferred interlocutor, and with successive G20 presidencies, the Commonwealth helps bring inclusively to the G20 table the economic concerns and priorities of all our members, particularly the smallest and most vulnerable economies.

Another instance is the process through which we have been harmonising collective Commonwealth insights to the dialogue on the new global development framework that will succeed the Millennium Development Goals once their 2015 target date is reached.

These advocacy contributions have a bearing on the economic prospects of our member states and thereby on the underlying conditions for growth. All can leave a mark on the implementation of crucial development priorities, providing an improved environment for business and enterprise, and opening up new opportunities for investment and wealth creation.

Youth empowerment, through encouraging opportunities for youth employment and entrepreneurship, is a particularly high priority for the Commonwealth. Of the two billion people living in our community of member states, 60% are in their twenties or less. We are an ever-younger Commonwealth. Our recently launched Youth Development Index is a global first and provides substantial data on the young in our member states.

The Commonwealth Youth Forum, currently taking place in Hambantota, is paying close attention to concerns such as Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) that is so vital to providing skills that are needed in industry and commerce, and which boost employability and economic inclusion.

Encouraging young entrepreneurs to form alliances is vital. I applaud, for instance, the work being done by the Commonwealth-Asia Alliance of Young Entrepreneurs (CAAYE). This imaginative and go-ahead network of young entrepreneurs and the organisations that support them is making an immense difference to the environment for youth enterprise in this region as our young people set out on new careers and develop new ventures.

Advancing entrepreneurship among women is an equal priority. Where a culture is nurtured that encourages investment in youth and women’s enterprise, employment is generated and economic and social benefits multiplied for the wider community. Financial institutions, and industry and trade bodies, have a crucial part to play in achieving these vital goals.

Participants in the Forum, your interests as the business community, and ours more broadly as the Commonwealth of 53 member states, are the same interests. Your enterprises, your boards and your employees make up that ‘Commonwealth of the People’ to which the Charter refers in its opening words.

We can and we will continue to work in unison to lift the reality ever closer to that aspiration of: ‘Partnership for Wealth Creation and Social Development’.

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