The Foreign Office claims the economic and social relevance of the Commonwealth | Business

As Jamaica’s surprise candidate for the post of Commonwealth Secretary-General, Foreign Secretary Kamina Johnson Smith officially launched her candidacy last week in London, the seat of the grouping’s administrative apparatus, questions continue to be raised. raised as to the usefulness and relevance of the 54-state member association which, until 1995, was a gathering of Britain and its former colonies.

A career diplomat, Ambassador Alison Stone Roofe, Undersecretary, Multilateral Affairs Division, Jamaican Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, highlighted the benefits the country has derived from Commonwealth membership over the past 60 years. years.

“Jamaica’s relationship with the Commonwealth continues to be mutually beneficial, with the country enjoying significant benefits from its association with most Commonwealth bodies, particularly through technical assistance under the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation, CFTC. Assistance is typically offered in the form of staff to perform advisory or operational tasks, volunteers, consultants, and training opportunities,” Stone Roofe said in a written response to financial gleaner requests.

By its own admission, however, the Commonwealth Secretariat, which Johnson Smith is trying to lead by dethroning current Secretary General Baroness Patricia Scotland, who was elected in 2015 as a Caribbean candidate, has painted a picture of diminishing CFTC resources.

The secretariat’s approved strategic plan, which was to come into effect in October 2021 and run until June 2025, outlines a range of resources and other constraints facing the coordination mechanism.

EXTRABUDGETARY RESOURCES

“Voluntary contributions to the Commonwealth Fund for Technical Cooperation have declined. They have decreased by 27% over the past six years. The shortfall has been made up by an increase in extrabudgetary resources. However, they are not viable in the longer term. The decline in the CFTC could lead to a reduction in the program’s funding envelope in future years. This will limit the Secretariat’s ability to deliver the required services to members,” said the plan, drafted and approved under the guidance of Baroness Scotland of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

The document notes that the decline of the CFTC has been compounded by other challenges, including its members, especially small, vulnerable states, which have suffered significantly from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“Their ability to contribute to Commonwealth funds has declined on the one hand, while the demand for secretariat services has increased on the other,” he said.

“Jamaica also receives indirect benefits from the active role of the Commonwealth in bringing the concerns of small states on issues of debt relief and international trade to multilateral bodies such as the World Trade Organization, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund,” Stone Roofe said. underline.

The Foreign Office has identified climate change, security, trade, sports development, education of electoral professionals and human rights as among the many areas of direct benefit to the Commonwealth in Jamaica.

“Through the Commonwealth Climate Finance Access Hub, the Commonwealth helped Jamaica secure a grant to help establish the first-ever Caribbean Green Bond. The grant will fund a “readiness initiative” involving an analysis of the development and functioning of a green bond market and the creation of regional green bond guidelines in line with international standards,” according to the ministry.

DIVERSIFICATION

In the area of ​​trade, he said, Jamaica has benefited from Commonwealth assistance in developing a maritime hub strategy, involving bunkering and dry-docking analysis. The Commonwealth would also have produced research to help Jamaica achieve its goal of trade diversification and meet the targets set out in the National Export Strategy.

Other areas of assistance would include support for a baseline study on trade facilitation, debt recording and management, improving the competitiveness of Jamaican micro, small and medium enterprises, creating an e-commerce strategy or plan and an appropriate regulatory framework to support e-commerce. activities, the development of a strategic plan for the export of professional services and the strengthening of the capacity of the Planning Institute of Jamaica in the management of the environment and natural resources.

Despite resource constraints, the Commonwealth has identified its priority areas for the next three years as assistance to small and other vulnerable states, environment and climate change, skills and health and education systems, technology-based development, gender equality and youth. development.

The organization’s strategic plan also promised to strengthen engagement with all Commonwealth-accredited organizations for the benefit of all member countries.

He also noted that the pandemic has highlighted the critical importance of digital tools, new technologies, connectivity, innovation and partnerships as a means for countries and their people to survive and prosper.

“Many member countries are currently facing a lack of resources, capacity, skills and infrastructure in this area. The digital age is increasingly shaped by big data, artificial intelligence, machine learning, the internet of things and remote sensing technologies. It should be noted that over 60% of the Commonwealth’s population is young and relatively more “digitally savvy” than older generations, providing an opportunity to tap into the Commonwealth’s digital and demographic potential. This will require support to bridge the digital divide in Commonwealth countries. Half of the world’s population is still offline, the majority of whom are women and girls,” the Commonwealth Strategic Plan states.

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