Commonwealth Secretary-General addresses ministerial meeting on small states

25 March 2014

Kamalesh Sharma welcomes Commonwealth ministers addressing small states’ concerns

Kamalesh Sharma welcomes Commonwealth ministers addressing small states’ concerns:

Honourable Ministers, Distinguished Delegates, Ladies and Gentlemen…

It is a great pleasure to welcome you to this meeting of the Open-Ended Ministerial Working Group on Small States.

I first offer very sincere thanks to the Government of St Lucia and to the Minister of External Affairs, the Honourable Alva Baptiste, for generously hosting this meeting.

I have said before that the Commonwealth is without a centre or a periphery, and this is so wherever we meet. So I am very appreciative that many of you have come long distances for this important gathering. I see old friends and new faces also, and know that we are all here with national and collective advancement of the Commonwealth in mind. I wish to acknowledge with appreciation that the Commonwealth Chair-in-Office is represented here, through the Minister of Public Management Reforms, the Honourable Navin Dissanayake. 

When Commonwealth Heads of Government met in Colombo last November, it was agreed that this Ministerial Working Group should be formed to give special consideration to the concerns of Commonwealth small states – with a bearing, of course, on issues relating to all small states more generally.

The relevant passage in the

2013 Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) Communiqué reads as follows:

‘Recognising that small states confront unique structural challenges and inherent vulnerabilities, heads encouraged further interaction between small states to address common issues and share best practice, including within the framework of ongoing development co-operation with traditional partners.

Heads of Government also agreed to the establishment of an Open-Ended Ministerial Group to progress practical and concrete proposals to address the priority development concerns of Commonwealth small states, including through the Third International Conference on Small Island Developing States in 2014 and development of the Post-2015 Development Agenda’.

An informal meeting of countries interested in this mandate was convened in Colombo by the Foreign Minister of Seychelles, the Honourable Jean-Paul Adam, who I am very pleased to welcome here today. It included representation from Samoa, Namibia, Jamaica, and Lesotho.

That preliminary meeting suggested that the Group once constituted should address specific actions whereby the Commonwealth can:

  • first, initiate partnerships and action to address a handful of small states’ priority issues;
  • second, work through a specific Commonwealth lens;
  • third, focus on vulnerability and resilience - and the need to 'define' countries in terms of their vulnerability; and
  • fourthly, examine resilience-building as a set of actions that need support.

It is for this gathering to delineate the scope and content of the Group’s work. A background paper has been developed to support you in this.

I am conscious that the heads at last year’s CHOGM also welcomed work by the Commonwealth Secretariat to further advance and deepen its small states’ resilience framework and its practical application. It is therefore not coincidental that today’s meeting is occurring on the eve of the Commonwealth’s Third Global Biennial Conference on Small States.

The Conference has as its theme, Building Resilience in Small States. There is evidently therefore mutual advantage from these meetings being held in close association.  We have a wide range of experts and policy formulators attending the Conference, and I am pleased that many of you will be able to stay for the proceedings.  

Finally, I have mentioned the mandate of the heads for this Group as well as the work of the Secretariat. In both, the aim in working for our small states is to work for what is of benefit to all our member states, and to advance the interests of all equitably, which is the Commonwealth strength. And it is also to advance those interests on the global stage, and to convert our wisdom and practical contributions into global wisdom and global contributions.

Watch the press conference in full

The Small Island Developing States summit in Samoa in September has been mentioned as one milestone; the UN negotiations on a Post-2015 Development Agenda is another. We will hopefully today be able to identify the specific initiatives that can be taken at this political level, and the specific messages that we – as the Commonwealth – would wish to advance collectively in those broader settings.

This is a timely moment to mention the copy of Global magazine that you will see in front of you. This quarterly publication is a collaboration between the Secretariat and an independent publisher which has been going for several years now. Two-thirds of the content relates to the broader global context and one-third is Commonwealth-specific.  

Distinguished ministers and delegates. My intent was to set the scene for your deliberations. And now, in view of his much appreciated involvement in bringing the Working Group to this juncture, I propose that the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Seychelles, the Honourable Jean-Paul Adam, should assume the Chair.