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Thursday, 29 July 2010 11:42

Commonwealth Summit Addresses Critical Challenges Facing Small States

LONDON, July 29, 2010, (Commonwealth News and Information Service) - Small states seem to have slipped off the radar screen. It is about time to bring them back - UNCTAD Secretary-General.

A major Commonwealth summit attracting government ministers, senior officials and international organisations to London will help small states identify how to address inherent vulnerabilities across trade, debt, investment and even shocks in the world economy.

This first ever biennial Commonwealth Small States Conference, hosted by the Commonwealth Secretariat at its headquarters in the United Kingdom, kicked-off on July 28 with the goal of assisting the association's 32 small states to work together in tackling common challenges.


Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith, speaking at the opening of the conference, said: "This can be achieved through sharing experiences and strengthening the exchange of good practices, developing common positions on global issues and, importantly, effective advocacy - especially by communicating the concerns and needs of small states to international agencies and development partners."


What is a small state?

The Secretariat defines small states as countries with a population of 1.5 million or less. These countries posses unique special development challenges - limited diversification, limited capacity, poverty, susceptibility to natural disasters and environmental change, remoteness and isolation, openness, and income volatility.


The Secretariat's grouping of small states also includes the larger member countries of Jamaica, Lesotho, Namibia and Papua New Guinea because they share many of the same characteristics of smallness.


In addition to helping states to cooperate and share experiences, the meeting draws on the experiences of international organisations such as the World Bank, the World Trade Organisation, and the United Nations, regional organisations and other development partners, who are working with small states and are here to explore further ways to support them.

United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) Secretary-General, Dr Supachai Panitchpakdi, speaking on day one, insisted the conference would be vital for small states who, he said, had, for many organisations, simply "slipped off the radar".


"It is very important to be concentrating on small and vulnerable economies particularly at this moment because they seem to have slipped off the radar screen. It is about time to bring them back in a way that they would have demonstrable, concrete plans of actions [addressing their challenges]," said Dr Panitchpakdi.


Smith's speech

Click here to read Commonwealth Deputy Secretary-General Ransford Smith's speech


The Conference's agenda, which focuses on financing sustainable development, debt, private sector development, vulnerability and resilience, and international trade and regional co-operation, was developed by the Commonwealth Secretariat in collaboration with the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat, the Caribbean Community Secretariat, and the Indian Ocean Commission.


In addition to regional and international organisations, the summit is being attended by senior ministers and representatives from 22 Commonwealth countries, as well as senior officials from the Australian government's overseas aid programme and the United Kingdom's Department for International Development.


In his speech, Mr Smith expressed a desire for the meeting to "deliver clear outcomes and that these are linked to the current international review process". The two most relevant, he suggested, are the five-year review of the Mauritius Strategy for the Implementation of the Barbados Programme of Action, which will be completed in New York in September, and the High Level Review of the Millennium Development Goals, taking place in the same month.


"Our hope is that this conference will result in the building and strengthening of partnerships, will support evidence-based policy making, and will serve to inform both the content of advocacy and the provision of technical assistance and capacity-building to small states," Mr Smith said.


St Kitts and Nevis' Minister of International Trade, Industry, Commerce, Agriculture, Consumer Affairs, Constituency Empowerment and Marine Resources, Hon Dr Timothy Harris, described the conference as a "historic forum", adding that it he regarded it as "critically relevant and timely" in light of the economic crisis.


Small states, because of their small size, often have to rely heavily on international trade, making them vulnerable to external shocks. According to the International Monetary Fund, the economies of Commonwealth small states declined by 1.75 percent in 2009 following the recent global financial crisis, in comparison to a 0.6 percent contraction experienced by the global economy as a whole.


"We are experiencing still one of the worst global economic recessions which has impacted on small states in a harsh and brutal," Dr Harris said. "The effects of [this crisis] have been expressed in many areas - loss of foreign direct investment, revenues for government and export earnings, and in many states we have seen a significant falloff in employment."

Jamaican Minister of Finance, Hon Audley Shaw, added that he thought the conference was a "very, very important event".


The Commonwealth Small States Conference, which will be held every two years, emerged following a mandate awarded by Commonwealth Finance Ministers at their meeting in Cyprus in 2009. Ministers urged the Commonwealth Secretariat to convene a conference of small states representatives in collaboration with international partners.


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