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Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister Bob Loughman speaking at the first Supply Side Connectivity meeting.

Vanuatu Deputy Prime Minister Bob Loughman

Connectivity group to help businesses tap into global trade

10 April 2019

Commonwealth countries will gather in Vanuatu this week to explore how small and medium-size businesses can plug into global value chains, and benefit from intra-Commonwealth trade - estimated to reach nearly $2 trillion within 10 years.

The activity is part of the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda (CCA), adopted by Heads of Government in April 2018 with a view to boosting trade and investment links across the Commonwealth. Driven by voluntary groups of countries knows as “clusters”, the CCA focuses on five key areas: Physical Connectivity, Digital Connectivity, Regulatory Connectivity, Business-to-Business Connectivity and Supply Side Connectivity.

The first meeting of the Supply Side cluster, led by Vanuatu, will take place in Port Vila on 10-11 April, bringing together policy makers, producers, technicians and business owners from the various Commonwealth regions.

They will examine opportunities for micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to join different parts of the agriculture value chain - from growing crops to processing food and manufacturing products to retail. Special emphasis will be placed on coconut, palm oil and soya beans.

The Deputy Prime Minister of Vanuatu, also the Minister of Trade, Tourism and Cooperatives and Ni-Vanuatu Businesses, Bob Loughman said: “For Vanuatu, agriculture is vital for prosperity. Nearly 80 per cent of people are engaged in agriculture, and in 2018 exports from the primary sectors accounted for well over 80 per cent of merchandise exports.

“For a country where agriculture is so important, and yet where there are so many trade barriers, it is near impossible to overstate the importance of close collaboration between the agriculture and trade sectors.”

The meeting will also look at challenges faced by micro, small and medium sized businesses, as defined by the number of employees and the annual turnover, including access to finance and climate change. Countries will share their experiences, drawing out lessons and good practices to be used as models, or scaled up across the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth’s CCA lead, Kirk Haywood, said: “Following the launch last month of the Digital Connectivity and the Physical Connectivity Clusters, members will now turn their attention to feeding the future. This working group will examine how changing consumer needs for sustainable, organic and vegetarian goods in developed markets are driving revolutions in agriculture and fisheries in developing markets and how the Commonwealth can tap into these shifts.”

Outcomes from the meeting will be presented to the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting this October, and eventually feed into the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2020.