Post-Brexit Trade Advantage Sought

The Commonwealth Secretary General, Patricia Scotland, has continued to express her optimism about the future of Commonwealth/UK trade post-Brexit. 

In a statement on 26 May, following a financial services conference in London attended by the High Commissioners of Australia, Canada and India, she pointed out that the cost of doing business between Commonwealth countries is, on average, 19 per cent cheaper than between non-member countries. This is because of a shared common language, common law, common institutions and common parliamentary structures. 

Former UK Foreign Minister, Hugo Swire, now deputy chair of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council, observed that small and medium businesses in Commonwealth countries need to be better equipped to trade, to do business with each other, and for the Commonwealth to be there to help them ‘up their game’ in order to compete effectively.

Since 2005, the share by the Commonwealth in the world’s gross domestic product (GDP) has increased and has overtaken the share of the European Union. 

Last word to Mr Swire: ‘If you judge a club by the length of the queue of those seeking membership, then the Commonwealth is in robust health’. 

The London conference was followed a few days later by the first India-Commonwealth Small and Medium Enterprises trade summit in Delhi, attended by representatives from 300 Indian firms and more than 100 businesses from other countries.

Australian RCS Branches Meeting

The South Australian Branch of the RCS organised a full agenda and lively social schedule when it hosted a national meeting of RCS Branches in Adelaide in May.

The RCS ACT Branch was represented by President Colin Milner, past presidents Hugh Craft and Kanti Jinna, and Councillor Elmo Jacob.

Also there were the Regional Coordinator for the Pacific, Darryl Stevens of RCS Wellington, New Zealand, and Peter Mann from the RCS Hong Kong Branch.

The President of the RCS SA Branch, Libby Ellis has since been appointed Regional Coordinator for Australia by RCS London. Jack Milne was made National Youth Coordinator.

Hopes Are High For the End of Polio

Among its myriad of images, Lagos, Nigeria with its teaming masses, grinding poverty and ceaseless frenetic activity, one never ceases to shock: it is of the young men with twisted and wasted limbs who wheel in and out between the cars on homemade skateboards, begging and hustling for survival. They are a potent reminder of the severity of disability that polio inflicts; of its capacity to twist and paralyse limbs, to cause pain, lifelong suffering and material hardship. Hopefully they may be among the last to suffer its calamitous effects.

The Global Polio Eradication Initiative (GPEI) was first launched in 1988. Channelling support from a number of sources, notably UNICEF, WHO, Rotary and the Gates Foundation, it made remarkable progress. By 2011 it had managed to slash the incidence of the disease by 99 per cent. But in four countries, however, three of them from the Commonwealth, (Nigeria, Pakistan and India), outbreaks were still being reported and there were real fears that their success would be short-lived.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard recognised the urgency of the problem and made polio eradication one of the central initiatives of the 2011 Perth CHOGM. She persuaded her fellow leaders to pledge over $100 million in new funds to the cause and it remains one of the Commonwealth’s central commitments. In 2017, a mere handful of cases have been reported. The GPEI believes the end is in sight but much remains to be done to ensure that the virus is completely eradicated.

In April this year, a delegation—including the Head of the GPEI Michael Sheldrick and representatives from WHO and Global Citizen—visited Canberra to lobby for funds to complete the task. At a meeting with RCS Council members delegates expressed their gratitude for the support they had received from the Commonwealth; Council members warmly encouraged them to continue to maintain and strengthen their links with the Commonwealth and its many civil society organisations.

Angela Neuhaus

Angela Neuhaus, former Hon. Treasurer of the Commonwealth Nurses & Midwives Federation, has spent many years in Africa, including Nigeria, on postings with her husband, Matthew Neuhaus, whose most recent post was as Ambassador to Zimbabwe.

 

DFAT Secretary Frances Adamson Speaks at Queen's Birthday Dinner

Good evening everyone.

It is a pleasure to celebrate with you the 91st birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II, Queen of Australia and Head of the Commonwealth.

I have enjoyed working with your sister organisation, the Britain-Australia Society during two postings in London, and I am pleased to have this opportunity to become better acquainted with my home side, so to speak.

I served first in the 1990s and then again as Deputy Head of Mission from 2005 to 2009.

I know, therefore, in the way you all do too, that the relationship between Australia and Britain is as deep and strong as any bilateral relationship can be.  And I know that we can't take it for granted and that it needs constant renewal through the forging of new relationships and friendships between people.

So the work you do matters a great deal.

Initiatives such as your plain speaking competitions, and the scholarships to facilitate young Aussies and Brits sail together on Tall Ships, extend the spirit of friendship through the generations.

I'd also like to recognise the work of the Royal Commonwealth Society, of which I have counted myself a member in years past.

The Commonwealth isn't a universal organisation, but it is an aspirational one – states on nearly every continent want to be part of it, because it still holds relevance today.

Consider:

  • the Commonwealth Secretariat's new Countering Violent Extremism unit, co-funded by Australia and the United Kingdom, and
  • the Commonwealth Climate Change Finance Access Hub, which aims to help developing countries access support for climate action, enhancing international efforts to mobilise climate finance.

This is an organisation with a lot to say about the world we live in today.

Introduction – volatility and rapid change

When I first contemplated – several weeks ago – what I would say tonight, I had a different topic in mind.

Prime Minister May had taken the first steps towards Brexit – towards disengagement from the European Union – and I was thinking a lot about the challenges a post-EU Britain would face in the years ahead.

I'm still thinking a lot about those issues and I expect you are too.

Frankly, questions about the future of globalisation, of the big changes we're seeing in the global order in the 21st Century, are some of the biggest unknowns for all of us. 

  • What will be the place of the United States, the pre-eminent global leader over the past few decades?
  • What future role will our region's nascent global power, China, take for itself?
  • To what extent will the global community be able to work together - at a time when working together is getting harder rather than easier - on issues of common concern, issues that go far beyond questions of national interest:
  • climate change,
  • global terrorism,
  • boosting economic growth through openness and reform,
  • development,
  • and a host of others, including the shape and function of global institutional architecture?

But the electoral events of the past week prompted me to think again about what I wanted to say to you tonight.

It would be entirely inappropriate for me to comment on questions of domestic politics – even for a country I know and love as much as Britain – though I am sure the election result last week has gripped your attention as much as any issue and has already been the topic of much private conversation tonight.

So I thought I'd turn to a rather messier topic than global affairs: democracy.

Democracy: a system of governance in recession?

Britain has, after all, had a fair degree of influence over what we know today as modern electoral democracy – giving us the model of the Westminster system of representative democracy, of an independent judiciary, and so much more.

It's often said that the United States has been a unique global superpower in that – since at least 1945, but arguably since Woodrow Wilson – it has seen its own national interest in building and supporting a rules-based international order.

But Britain, too, has played a major role in giving us the world order we have today, given its history as an exporter of democratic institutions and the rule of law.

We can see that clearly in the Commonwealth itself.

Australia was fortunate to receive a rich democratic inheritance from Britain, an inheritance we've built on and developed further.

And globally, we have an international order founded, for the most part, on what one might think of as democratic principles:

  • a large body of international law founded on core principles of human rights, under which states are for the most part equal parties,
  • a norm that accepts that the best way to conduct affairs globally is by negotiation and consensus, not by force.

But, globally, in the last few years, we have seen a period of widespread electoral volatility.

In the United States, we were all witness to the rise of a new force in presidential politics last year, a phenomenon amazing enough to have brushed past both of the ruling dynasties of American democracy, the Clintons and the Bushes.

President Trump's election came as a shock to many people – for some, it still seems an almost daily surprise!

Likewise, the Brexit referendum was a major political and strategic shock, in Britain, in the EU, and around the world, reversing direction on a decades-long trend towards greater European integration.

And in a whole host of elections around the world, new parties and political voices are finding fresh energy in gaining access to political power – the recent French presidential election being the first not to have had a representative of either of the major parties in the run-off round.

Some commentators have talked about a "democratic recession" around the world; others have talked about democracy in retreat.1

Global challenges

I personally think that sort of analysis is a bit overdone.

Without question, the prolonged global economic weakness that we have lived with since the Global Financial Crisis has sapped confidence – confidence in globalisation, in traditional governing parties, in international structures and existing models.

Many economies have been troubled by persistent or higher than usual unemployment.

Economic growth has been restrained.

Those economic challenges have contributed to the rise we've seen in protectionist ideas, to a new lack of trust in the benefits of globalisation, and to growing nationalism in many political systems.

As well, the strategic and political international landscape is changing.

Under Vladimir Putin, Russia has shaken us free of any complacency we might have had in the years since the end of the Cold War that a liberal world order was the last idea standing.

Geopolitics is alive and well in Europe in the 21st Century.

China's emergence, too, seems certain to change the global landscape.

Its continued economic transformation for almost 40 years now has brought it to a position of prominence. Under President Xi China is more active strategically than for many decades.

The highest profile question, indeed cause for concern, has been China's construction activity in the South China Sea and its militarisation of disputed features, but its Belt and Road Initiative suggests a broader desire to refashion the global map with China at its centre.

As well, the global community faces a string of deep trans-national challenges: terrorism, which has struck Britain so cruelly in recent weeks, climate change, and large numbers of displaced people, with 65 million refugees worldwide.

When there is such a degree of economic and strategic uncertainty, it is unsurprising that voters will look in many different directions for possible solutions.

Democracy: trying to solve global problems

I would contend, though, that democracy isn't ailing – it's the system people are trying to use to heal the illnesses they see around them.

Former US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, in a recently released book on the topic of democracy2, tackles this question about the health of global democracy head on.

Professor Rice, now back at Stanford in her post-public service life, is a realist, a pragmatist, and an optimist about democracy, all at once:

"Freedom has not lost its appeal," she writes. "But the task of establishing and sustaining the democratic institutions that will protect it is arduous and long. Progress is rarely a one-way road. Ending authoritarian rule can happen quickly; establishing democratic institutions cannot."

For Rice, who worked in the White House of George Bush Senior when the Berlin Wall fell and Mikhail Gorbachev let the nations of Eastern Europe step away from the Soviet sphere, and who was later National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under George Bush Junior, democracy is "messy, imperfect, mistake-prone and fragile."

Institutions are centrally important, part of the broader national landscape that will determine whether democracy will struggle or thrive in a particular setting.

But Rice doesn't see that messiness, those imperfections, as a source of weakness, rather of strength.

"The paradox of democracy," she writes, "is that its stability is born of its openness to upheaval through elections, legislation and social action. Disruption is built into the fabric of democracy."

As we look around the world in 2017, I submit democracy is in better shape than many give it credit – and the surprising results we're seeing are simply the result of living in a world that is more complex, and more inter-connected, than ever before.

The Commonwealth: a community of democracies

The Commonwealth is a good example of how attractive democracy still is.

Beyond the ties of history, language and institutions, Commonwealth members are united though shared values of democracy, freedom, peace, the rule of law and opportunity for all. 

The Commonwealth works for international peace and order, individual liberty, development, democracy and the end of racism amongst many other ideals.

In 1995, Commonwealth leaders created a Ministerial Action Group to deal with persistent or serious violations of the Commonwealth's shared democratic values.

Since its establishment, the Commonwealth Ministerial Action Group has suspended member states eight times.

With the exception of Zimbabwe, which opted to leave the Commonwealth, all suspended countries have been returned to full membership following the restoration of democracy.

Ahead of the 2018 Commonwealth Summit (which will take place in London in the week of 16 April), The Gambia will become the fourth country to return to the Commonwealth after leaving it, following South Africa, Pakistan and Fiji.

  • The Commonwealth strengthens democracy around the world, including, over the past quarter of a century, by monitoring around 140 elections in nearly 40 countries.

Democracy and human rights

Like Britain and other Commonwealth countries around the world, Australia is a strong believer in democracy, and in human rights.

Principles we hold dear to our democratic tradition – like the liberty of the individual, our commitment to the rule of law and the importance of promoting and protecting human rights – deserve our support at the global level. 

This year, Australia is a candidate for a seat on the United Nations' Human Rights Council, running for the 2018-20 term.

We're doing this for a number of reasons.

First, we are a country with a proud tradition of respect for human rights – we were among the first jurisdictions anywhere to offer full political rights to women, and have had protections against discrimination in place for decades now.

Second, we have not yet, since the Human Rights Council was formed in 2006, served on that body – and we want to make a significant contribution.

Third, the Human Rights Council has never had a member from the Pacific.  We think it is time to remedy that.

Our campaign is based on five pillars:

  • Gender equality, a particular passion of Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and a major priority in our international development program,
  • Good governance
  • Freedom of expression
  • The rights of indigenous peoples
  • And strong human rights institutions.

If elected, Australia's approach would be one of both principle and pragmatism. 

We would work to build bridges to address human rights challenges around the world. 

And we would work in the same constructive and collaborative style that marked our recent term on the Security Council.

Conclusion

Ladies and gentlemen, we live in uncertain and challenging times.

I think it's important that we don't see our best prospect for solving the big challenges of our day – consensual, inclusive, respectful approaches to public policy, both domestic and international – as being the problem.

Indeed, it is more important than ever that we support mechanisms in international affairs that promote dialogue on the ideals that matter to us – like democracy and human rights.

I hope you will all agree that the democracy that our two countries have helped establish as a global norm is imperfect, and sometimes confusing – but it offers the best hope for peaceful, prosperous solutions to the global challenges of our day.

This speech was delivered at the Commonwealth Club in Canberra on Thursday 15 June. A copy of the speech can also be found on the DFAT website

Britain Prepares for 2018 CHOGM

For the first time, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castel will be among venues when Commonwealth Heads of Government meet in Britain in April 2018.

In statement in March, the Commonwealth SecretaryGeneral, Patricia Scotland, said the 2018 meeting would ‘cement the shared aims of good governance, sustainable growth and inclusive social and economic development’. These, she said, are aided by our common language, common laws, common parliamentary and other institutions as well as our cultural ties.

A Ministerial Roundtable in March, coordinated by the Secretariat, was attended by 40 of the 52 Commonwealth member states and included representatives from all six regions. The meeting agreed that a key aim of CHOGM in 2018 would be to increase trade between Commonwealth nations. This is projected to increase to US$1 trillion by 2020.

The 2018 CHOGM will see the UK take over from Malta as Chair Office until 2020. This will be the first Commonwealth Heads summit under the leadership of Baroness Scotland as Commonwealth Secretary-General.

Commonwealth Role in Anti-terrorism

Australia’s Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, has announced a new policy framework intended to counter violent extremism though Australian aid programs. 

Ms Bishop’s announcement was made shortly before the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack in March and following the provision of $2.5 million to the Commonwealth Secretariat to establish a Counter-Violent Extremism Unit at its London headquarters. 

She said that the new framework will ensure that development assistance considers countering violent extremism in targeted and sensitive ways, including across education, civil society, governance, livelihoods, justice and the rule of law.

In 2016, Australia supported a revision of OECD rules to make non-coercive efforts to counter violent extremism eligible for Official Development Assistance.

Meanwhile, in Canberra, the RCS and the Commonwealth Round Table in Australia have made a joint contribution to the development of a new Australian Foreign Policy White Paper—the first since 2003. 

Commonwealth Day Celebrated in Canberra

Members and friends of the RCS ACT Branch celebrated Commonwealth Day this year with a variety of events starting with the Multi-Faith Celebration in the spirit of the Commonwealth theme for 2017, A Commonwealth for Peace, followed by our annual Commonwealth Dinner and ending in a cricket match.

The Multi-Faith celebration at the Centre for Christianity and Culture in Barton on Commonwealth Day began with the tolling of the great bell in the Centre’s forecourt, once for each of the Commonwealth’s current 52 member countries. As guests took their places, unaccompanied singing from a Pacific Islands choir filled the hall. A procession of honoured guests and participants followed, led by Lieut. General John Sanderson, former Governor of Western Australia and Deputy Chair of the Centre. Then there were readings of three messages to mark the day, the first from HM The Queen, as Head of the Commonwealth, from the Prime Minister, the Hon. Malcolm Turnbull and from HE General the Hon. Sir Peter Cosgrove, Governor General of Australia, our RCS ACT Branch Patron.

Following an address by General Sanderson on the theme A Commonwealth for Peace following by a performance of Irish dancing, a joint statement was made on behalf of ACT Faith Communities, with parts read by Mr Dean Sahu Khan, the Venerable Tempa Bejanke, Deacon John Lim and Mrs Deepali Jain.

As the celebration drew to a close, the Woden Valley Youth Choir sang, a Punjabi Dance group performed on stage, the National Anthem was sung by the congregation, and, as guests left the chapel, Pacific Island voices were again raised in a farewell song. 

A few days later, members and friends of the RCS gathered for the annual Commonwealth Dinner at the Commonwealth Club in Yarralumla. The guest speaker was the British High Commissioner, HE Mrs Menna Rawlings, who gave a wide-ranging address on the importance of Commonwealth relationships.

A cheque for $5000 was presented to the winner of the 2017 Phyllis Montgomerie Award, Mitchell McMaster, by RCS president, Colin Milner. Mitchell, a PhD candidate at the ANU, received the award for his research into mild cognitive impairment and whether it can be halted or reversed in those affected by interventions such as diet, exercise and intellectual stimulation.

Gareth Evans Delivers Inaugural Anthony Low Lecture

An inaugural lecture in honour of the late Professor Anthony Low, former Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University and historian of the Commonwealth, was given by the University's current Chancellor and Australia's former Foreign Minister, the Hon. Gareth Evans, to a packed audience in the ANU’s Hedley Bull Lecture Theatre in October 2016.

Professor Evans’s lecture concentrated on what has become one of the Commonwealth's proudest achievements: its role in hastening the end of apartheid in South Africa, and the central part—from the beginning—played by Australia in the Whitlam and Fraser governments of the 1970s and later by the Hawke government, in which Gareth Evans served.

Sanctions

Principally through the use of sporting and trade sanctions— which were progressively lifted as the apartheid system ‘unwound’— as well as international pressure for change, and what Professor Evans described as ‘the ever-mounting internal tension’ combined with ‘white political leadership clearheaded enough to grasp the moment’, opportunity came in February 1989 when FW De Klerk replaced hardliner PW Botha as President. One year later, the dismantling of apartheid had begun, with the new government willing to negotiate on democratic and non-racial constitutional reforms, lift the bans on the African National Congress and importantly, release from prison, after 27 years, Nelson Mandela.

Commitment

‘I am sometimes still asked,’ said Professor Evans, ‘why it was that successive Australian governments … committed so much effort to resolving a South African situation so little of our making. My short answer has always been that it lies in that instinct for good international citizenship which I continue to believe is part of our national psyche…

‘The enforcers of apartheid, proclaiming their superiority to others on the basis of race alone, were not just another unpalatable regime, but beyond the civilised pale. If we had washed our hands of the struggle against them, we would not only have failed in our humanitarian duty, but would have debased the very values which are at the core of our sense of human dignity.’

The biennial Commonwealth Lecture, sponsored by the Commonwealth Round Table in Australia of which Professor Low was Founding Convenor, will now be known as the Anthony Low Commonwealth Lecture.

2017 Montgomerie Award Announced

A PhD candidate in the Centre for Research on Ageing, Health and Wellbeing at ANU is to receive the 2017 Phyllis Montgomerie Commonwealth Award to support his work in dementia research.

Mr Mitchell McMaster  is conducting a randomised controlled trial of older adults with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI). It hopes to show whether multiple factors that are known to increase the risk of dementia can be countered through physical exercise, diet, mental stimulation and increased social contact to improve cognitive function and halt further decline.

It is believed to be the first time this type of intervention has been trialled in people with MCI, one of the highest risk groups for dementia.

Mr McMaster is to receive his cheque for $5000 at the Commonwealth Dinner on the 16 March.

See also: ANU Article.  

Thirty-Three RCS Branches Meet in London

Over 80 RCS members from 33 branches in 20 countries were in London in October 2016 for an International Meeting of RCS Branches to share experiences and knowledge, discuss the challenges facing branches and opportunities for expanding the network.

Australia was well-represented with 16 delegates from ACT, Victoria, NSW, South Australia, Queensland and Western Australia.

Representing the ACT were the President, Kanti Jinna and Mrs Jyoti Jinna and Council members Dr Elmo Jacob and Mr Colin Milner.

The three-day meeting was preceded by a two-day Youth Assembly.

As the RCS London Branch was in the process of moving into its new headquarters in Pall Mall, the High Commissions of New Zealand, Canada and Nigeria hosted various sessions in their chanceries.

Functions were held at the High Commissions of Australia and Malta, the House of Lords and Buckingham Palace and there was a tour of Westminster Abbey. This was the first International Meeting of RCS Branches since that in Kuala Lumpur in 2011.

Queen's Canopy in Australia

Australia has committed to planting 20 million native trees by 2020 as its contribution to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy, a network of forest conservation projects involving all Commonwealth member countries.

The Queen’s Canopy was launched at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Malta in 2015. Its purpose is to create a physical and lasting legacy to mark the Queen’s leadership of the Commonwealth while conserving indigenous forests for future generations.

Australia’s contribution to the Canopy aims to re-establish green corridors and urban forests on public and private land. Britain has dedicated 200 square miles of its National Forrest, Canada 6.5 million hectares of its Great Bear Rain Forest in British Columbia, while Singapore has dedicated six hectares of its Botanic Gardens. By the end of 2016, 20 countries from all five regions had committed to the Canopy project with more countries expected to join. In the AsiaPacific region, this includes Fiji, Papua New Guinea, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, New Zealand and Australia.

The Canopy project involves partnerships between RCS London, Cool Earth—a UK-based charity that works with indigenous villages to halt forest destruction—and the Commonwealth Forestry Association.

Model CHOGM Meets in Old Parliament House

Student delegates to a Model Youth Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) at Old Parliament House in August chose four sub-themes to set the agenda for debate to reflect the ‘youth’ theme of the meeting: These were Youth and Education, Poverty and Youth, Youth and Gender, Youth and Health.

Meeting in the old House of Representatives chamber, delegates were students from the Australian National University where a branch of CommonYouth was established earlier this year. Each was invited to represent a Head of State from a Commonwealth country of which they were not themselves nationals. Although in the main Australian citizens— many with overseas backgrounds— participants also included overseas students, including those from Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Singapore, China, Taiwan, Nigeria, Thailand, Botswana, Pakistan, India, The Philippines, New Zealand and Afghanistan.

In their final communiqué, the ‘Heads of Government’ agreed that education should be a cornerstone of all government policy and that access to education be provided to all women. They also called for a lowering of costs of education in their respective nations and their entry into multinational relationships regarding the transfer of knowledge and labour between them.

One of the recommendations on theme of Poverty and Youth was that regional alliances of Young Entrepreneurs be established between Commonwealth nations to maximise capacity for youth in development. On Gender, ‘Heads’ agreed to focus on gender equality in the implementation of youth empowerment programs to reduce existing gender disparities.

Participants said they found the experience useful as an exercise in learning about the procedure of Commonwealth decision-making, with some being interested in attending the Commonwealth Youth Forum, one of the side events of the November CHOGM.

The motivation for those taking part ranged from a general interest in the Commonwealth and international relations to youth leadership opportunities, a career in diplomacy, the opportunity to develop skills in public speaking, advocacy and negotiation. Some also named learning to think from the perspective of a different culture as an important reason to take part.

HE Mr Charles Muscat, High Commissioner Malta, the host nation for CHOGM, gave a small reception for Youth CHOGM representatives where he was presented with a copy of their communiqué for handing over to the Prime Minister of Malta, Joseph Muscat.

Gender Equality in Commonwealth

The Australian Government has provided $340,000 for the Royal Commonwealth Society in London to promote youth leadership and gender equality in the Commonwealth.

Part of the funds will be used to train young Commonwealth citizens as skilled advocates for gender equality in local, national and international politics.

The RCS will also conduct research into young peoples’ experiences of gender-based violence and how they might effectively address the issue. Much of the work will be carried out through the Commonwealth Youth Gender and Equality Network (CYGEN).

The funding announcement was made by Natasha Stott-Despoja, Australia’s Ambassador for Women and Girls, at the Commonwealth Women’s Ministerial meeting in Apia, Samoa, on 7 September 2016.

Australia has previously provided $320,000 in an earlier phase of funding to support the CYGEN initiative on gender equality.

Brexit Bring Uncertainties for Commonwealth

Since The United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on 23 June this year, speculation has grown on how this will affect the Commonwealth. The RCS London, in a statement following the referendum, urged that the UK should ensure that ‘the Commonwealth potential ... is integrated into all debates on the future of Britain’s foreign and domestic policy’.

A month later, the RCS held a meeting of Commonwealth organisations in London, in the first of a series of roundtable discussions, on the challenges and opportunities associated with Brexit, hosted by the Royal Overseas League and chaired by RCS Director Michael Lake. Described as a ‘Commonwealth Conversation’, the meeting addressed three broad questions: the likely impact on, and opportunities for, the UK’s relations with other Commonwealth members, the challenges and opportunities that Brexit creates for the Commonwealth network, and the ways in which the Commonwealth would want to engage with the EU through and beyond Brexit negotiations.

New opportunities

Overall, the meeting concluded that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would potentially have a negative impact on the Commonwealth, but as the UK reorientated its foreign policy priorities, new opportunities would be created.

The meeting noted that international trade was one of the biggest potential areas of opportunity for Commonwealth countries, especially with many emerging markets in the Commonwealth. Another way BREXIT could impact Commonwealth relations would be the UK’s capacity in overseas development assistance when freed of contributions to the European Development Fund. Areas of concern expressed by many participants included the threat to the Commonwealth through racist intolerance stirred up by the referendum. Other opportunities foreshadowed included a freeing up of the UK’s unpopular visa regime for Commonwealth citizens, including the UK extending a two-year business and tourism visa to Indian nationals.

Two recent research papers published by the Commonwealth Secretariat warn that key industries in some Commonwealth nations could be badly affected by the referendum decision. A paper on trade implications by the head of the Secretariat’s international trade policy section, Dr Mohammad Razzaque, suggested that uncertainties caused by Brexit could weaken the chances of world economic recovery with severe implications for many developing and least-developed countries for whom the EU provides special trade deals. If the UK does not provide additional provisions, these countries could face annual export duties of more than £600 stg.

Matthew Neuhaus, Australian Ambassador to Zimbabwe 2011-2015. 

Refugees, Climate Change and Extremism on CHOGM Agenda

As Malta prepares to welcome Commonwealth Heads of Government to their biennial meeting from 27 to 29 November, the refugee crisis facing many member countries could dominate an already crowded agenda.

A European Union Summit in Malta on migration earlier in November followed by a G20 summit in Turkey is likely set the scene for an issue that observers say can’t be avoided. Malta itself has been described as ‘almost sinking’ under the weight of refugees. Climate change is another pressing issue, considering that that a significant number of Commonwealth members are small island states, some already experiencing inundation and destruction from extreme weather events.

Yet another priority will be addressing the problems facing a number of member countries in countering violent extremism and radicalisation.

One of the most important decisions for the Malta CHOGM, however, is to appoint a new SecretaryGeneral to replace Kamalesh Sharma, who will complete his second four-year term. Mr Sharma, formerly India’s High Commissioner to London, has been seen by many observers of Commonwealth affairs as too conservative and set in his ways to be an effective leader. The appointment of a successor is seen as an opportunity for Heads to bring new life to a once-vigorous and proactive institution that has become moribund.

Crucial role

The role of the Secretary-General is considered crucial in setting the course for how the Commonwealth will be run and how effective it will be in applying the principles of democracy, rule of law and human rights that bind member states to uphold. In recent years, these principles have often been flouted, with no effective response from either the Secretary-General or the Commonwealth Ministerial Advisory Group (CMAG). This is despite the 2011 Perth CHOGM agreeing that the Secretary-General should speak out publicly in expressing disapproval of ‘serious or persistent violations of Commonwealth values’. CMAG’s role as watchdog for Commonwealth principles was similarly endorsed.

The new Secretary-General is likely to be from four main contenders. Patricia Scotland, Baroness Scotland of Asthar, born in Dominica, was educated in the UK and was Attorney-General in the Blair government. She was the youngest QC, at aged 35, since Pitt the Younger. Another possibility is Gabaipone Mmasekgoa Masire-Mwamba from Botswana, educated in London in science and law, who held various high level positions in government and corporate affairs in Botswana and the UK before appointment as a Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General. Her term finished in 2014.

The Tanzanian Foreign Minister and current chair of CMAG, Bernard Membe, is also in the running, along with Sir Ronald Sanders, Ambassador to Washington for Antigua and Barbuda, who played an important role on the Eminent Persons’ Group whose recommendations to the Perth CHOGM on the future of the Commonwealth dominated the meeting. The Group’s proposed Commonwealth Charter, setting out fundamental principles, values and aspirations of the people of the Commonwealth was endorsed at the meeting.

Commonwealth observers over recent years have noted that the length of the CHOGM agenda has been growing with each meeting (the draft agenda for the Malta meeting is rumoured to be 10 pages). There is also concern about the length of the joint communiqué issued by Heads at the end of their three-day meeting. The Sri Lanka CHOGM statement in 2013 covered 98 topics and ran to over 8000 words.