Magazine article New African

The 'Club' Is Uniquely Significant Today

Magazine article New African

The 'Club' Is Uniquely Significant Today

Article excerpt

Lord Ahmad, UK Minister for the Commonwealth and the UN

The UK will host the next Commonwealth Heads of State Summit in April next year. This time, the meeting of the "English-speaking club" takes on an added significance, with Britain preparing to exit the European Union and seek stronger trade and cultural ties with the rest of the world. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (pictured, right), Minister for the Commonwealth at the Foreign and Commonwealth office, talks to Anver Versi on why the body is more relevant than ever in today's world.

What is the Commonwealth's role now in the current global environment?

What makes the Commonwealth quite unique is that there is a snared common culture, a common history, common governance principles.

There's much replicated in terms of the way we do business; our justice and educational systems are intrinsically linked and of course, we have a common language. These are major strengths and foundations on which to build an organisation. To have all of this already in place is a huge opportunity for all of us.

When you look at Commonwealth trade specifically, it currently stands at about 687 bn [pounds sterling] across the 52 member countries. Bv 2020, we are looking at over a trillion pounds' worth of trade.

The forthcoming Summit provides a great opportunity for the Heads of Government meeting there to actually not just renew that but to see how we can strengthen areas of trade. I think that will be a key aspect of our focus.

How much of this figure of 687bn [pounds sterling] would you say is Africa's contribution?

I think we're looking at around 40bn [pounds sterling]. I know for example that our trade with Ghana currently, to make it specific to my recent visit there, has a value of just over 1bn [pounds sterling] in terms of bilateral trade. And there's a lot of bilateral trade, UK-Africa, Africa-Asia and the other way around.

When we look at sectors such as banking and technology for example, India comes to mind for obvious reasons, in terms of how the world is becoming more global.

In view of Brexit, how important is the Commonwealth going to be to the UK, particularly UK trade? Well first of all, to dispel any myths that are out there; there are some who perhaps think that the fact that we are talking more strongly, positively, on the nature of the Commonwealth is because Brexit has happened.

Had the vote gone the other way, I can assure you that we would still have been hosting the Summit here in London. [The summit was originally to be hosted by Vanuatu in the South Pacific at the end of 2017, but was moved to the UK as Vanuatu was no longer able to host the event due to the damage done by Cyclone Pam. The meeting was postponed to the spring of 2018 due to other international commitments.)

So, whilst Brexit is happening, we will continue to be part of Europe, we will continue to have a strong and prosperous relationship with the other members of the EU.

At the same time, I've quoted you the 687bn [pounds sterling] worth of intra-Commonwealth trade; that has been created with a renewed focus on our relative strengths in terms of the partnership.

Different people bring different things to the table. The question is: How can we actually strengthen what's already out there?

When I was in Ghana, one of the things I saw was how effectively they're dealing with the challenges of countering violent extremism. They don't have an issue with youth long may that continue.

That's a model that can perhaps be taken further afield, to parts of Africa where there are greater challenges when it comes to countering violent extremism.

One of the criticisms of the Commonwealth Summit is that it's just a club where people have a great photo opportunity with the Queen--and after that, it just seems to disappear. How you can make the Commonwealth more relevant? …

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