The world is reeling from the impact of Covid-19. An estimated 4.6 million people have died. In 2020, Commonwealth countries suffered a loss of US$1.15 trillion and 84% fell into recession.
Trade and shipping patterns face ongoing disruptions and uncertainties abound, especially in less developed economies. The Commonwealth, together with the rest of the world, is still grappling with the unprecedented challenges of a global pandemic and its aftermath, with a loss of US$345 billion in exports globally. Barriers to trade between developing and developed world remain stubbornly in place, particularly in sectors like agriculture and refining of food products, areas which have particularly suffered from price inflation and distribution problems during this crisis. The Commonwealth is one of the few networks that seeks to break down these barriers. 47 out of 54, almost all developing countries, are net importers of medical goods. Building upon the existing high levels of intra-Commonwealth trade is a significant step in the right direction towards encouraging fairer trade and a more level playing field. At this important juncture in modern history, now is the time for Commonwealth businesses, entrepreneurs, aspiring business people, students and individuals to have an organisational structure to realise the benefits of being part of the global network of Commonwealth business.
Today’s Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent countries and 25 associated territories. Most were part of the former British Empire, but some, such as Rwanda and Mozambique, have no historical ties with the UK. There are around 2.4 billion people in the Commonwealth, which includes both advanced economies and developing countries. It was Nelson Mandela who said: “The Commonwealth makes the world safe for diversity” which is as true and as important today as it has ever been. The Commonwealth continues to be an extremely diverse group. Over 40% of the world’s population under 30 are in the Commonwealth. At the same time the Commonwealth includes around 40% of the world’s Muslim population – currently 730 million and projected to be nearly 900 million by 2030.
Up to now there has not been an international Commonwealth Chamber. Nor has there ever been any significant pan-Commonwealth Chamber of Commerce in any Commonwealth country.
The Commonwealth, which has a combined GDP of US$13 trillion, is not a formal trading bloc. However Commonwealth countries trade up to 20 per cent more with other Commonwealth countries than with non-Commonwealth countries and on average at a 21 per cent lower cost. Research also demonstrates that Commonwealth countries invest up to 27 per cent more within the Commonwealth than outside of it – with nearly three times higher investment levels in 2020 than in 2017, which in was around 10 per cent.
Even in sport, we see the benefits of intra Commonwealth competition and cooperation. The enthusiasm, rivalries and prowess of Commonwealth countries in sports such as cricket and rugby have fueled and driven ever-higher standards of excellence. The quadrennial Commonwealth Games dating back to 1930 support and amplify sporting talent throughout the Commonwealth, helping to prepare athletes for other global sporting events. Together the countries of the Commonwealth won more gold and overall medals in the Tokyo Olympics and Paralympics 2020 than any other country or grouping.
The Commonwealth Chamber provides a platform for business engagement, networking and development for members. There are grounds of commonality of approach which can change the narrative in areas such as women in business, good governance, trading links, economic development, and environmental sustainability. In so doing, the Commonwealth Chamber will empower members to view the business landscape and the opportunities on offer through the eyes of Commonwealth business. As a ground up community representing Commonwealth business people, the Commonwealth Chamber is a platform and network to facilitate the conversation, reflecting growing Commonwealth business and trade. For example, in 2021 and beyond, the Chamber is providing a forum to shift the debate about how Covid has disproportionately affected the most disadvantaged among us and how Commonwealth business can build and rethink how things are done.
The Commonwealth includes 24 small island developing states which may be under water within our life times. Who will speak for these island states? At the Commonwealth Chamber, we’ve established a working group examining environmental issues around ecological threats and broader sustainability. We would aim at formulating measures mitigating the impact on the Commonwealth’s small island states whilst focussing on encouraging direct climate action and sustainability in the larger Commonwealth economies.
Knitting Commonwealth businesses together is absolutely vital. Many of the companies and jobs which will be employing people in ten to fifteen years’ time currently don’t exist today and are yet to be created. Business in the Commonwealth with its 2.4 billion people, most of whom are under 30 years of age, is about the future, not the past. The Commonwealth Chamber is about finding the commonalities to build powerful businesses creating and sustaining wealth, providing jobs, careers and fulfilment whilst improving lives. The Chamber invites members to take a fresh look at the changes we have lived through over the past two years or so and how we are going to improve things going forward. Fostering civilised debate across a range of business areas from the most diverse pool of business people, always with respect for other points of view, the Chamber adheres to the highest standards of ethics and integrity and welcomes challenges all to join a diverse, open and transparent conversation.
The Covid pandemic has necessitated and normalized communications, meetings and events through online media and platforms. Events which would never have taken place online and which embrace a broad range of age groups have now become the norm. Without this profound shift, the coming together virtually of an international online business community focusing on Commonwealth business would not have been achievable.