Agenda Item 6 HGM(03)11
Ministerial Group on Small States -
4 December 2003 - The Commonwealth Ministerial Group on Small States (MGSS) held its sixth meeting on Thursday, 4 December 2003. The meeting was chaired by the Hon Olu Adeniji, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nigeria. Representatives from 38 member governments and observers from the World Bank, EU and CARICOM attended the meeting.
2. Opening the meeting, the Secretary General stated that the Commonwealth was the first organisation to recognise the unique challenges faced by small states and raise awareness about these problems on the international stage. He pointed out that small states had an important role to play in the Commonwealth and contributed to the internal balance of the organisation and to its global reach. The Secretary-General stressed that the work of the Commonwealth was aimed at assisting small states to stand their ground and benefit from globalisation. He also emphasised the special efforts that need to be made to assist small states to attract investment and create the capacity to produce internationally competitive goods and services. In addition he also stressed the importance of increased trading opportunities for these countries through strengthening the development dimension of the multilateral trading system.
3. The Secretary-General said that a country was more likely to achieve sustainable development if it inspired confidence and it would only inspire confidence if it was founded on a strong democratic culture. He recognised that democratic institutions were often more costly to establish and maintain for small states. He pointed out that this was why the Commonwealth provided support in promoting good governance and assisting in the process of civil service reform. He emphasised that small states enriched the Commonwealth and were an integral part of its diversity.
4. Following his election, the Chairperson welcomed delegates to Abuja and stressed the importance of the Commonwealths agenda on small states, given that the majority of its membership fell into that category. He said that Nigeria had a direct interest in the development and prosperity of these countries, in view of the fact that some of its neighbours and trading partners were small states.
Implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Task Force and the New Agenda for Commonwealth Work on Small States
5. Ministers reviewed progress in implementing the recommendations of the April 2000 report of the Commonwealth Secretariat/World Bank Joint Task Force on Small States and the New Agenda for Commonwealth Work on Small States approved at their last meeting and endorsed by CHOGM, in Coolum 2002.
6. They welcomed the progress that has been made, and the continuing support of partner organisations in taking forward actions in the four key areas of challenge and opportunity for small states identified by the Task Force .
Tackling volatility, vulnerability and natural disasters.
7. Ministers stressed that recent global developments had increased the vulnerability of small states. The events of 11 September 2001 and its aftermath had placed new demands on these countries and had created a new dimension to their vulnerability. The need to combat terrorism and address increased security risks has diverted resources away from development and increased indebtedness. Ministers recognised the need for small states to be supported in addressing the challenges related to this new more uncertain international environment. They urged the Secretariat to revisit the New Agenda for Commonwealth Work on Small States, agreed upon in Coolum, to ensure that it addresses these new issues.
8. Ministers stressed that new security-related risks had impacted particularly adversely on the tourism sector which was crucially important to many small states. In this connection, they welcomed the first meeting of Commonwealth Ministers responsible for tourism to be held, in Malaysia, in March 2004.
9. Ministers also reiterated that capacity-building and retention of expertise was a critical determinant of the sustainable development prospects of small states. They welcomed the assistance being provided by Commonwealth countries in this area. They also urged the Secretariat and its partner organisations to continue to place the highest priority on capacity-building activities in small states. Ministers emphasised that trade-related technical assistance was particularly important in enabling these countries to manage the opportunities and challenges arising from globalisation. They also pointed out that endowed handicaps such as size, remoteness, being land-locked and environmental vulnerability increased the costs of doing business in small economies. They called for innovative mechanisms to promote investment into such locations.
10. Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to a rules-based international trading system. They recognised that such a system was in the particular interest of small vulnerable economies. They, therefore, expressed concern at the breakdown of the negotiations in Cancun and called for immediate re-engagement by all concerned. Ministers stressed that all parties should demonstrate the flexibility and political will necessary to deliver a successful outcome to the Doha Round, emphasising the development dimension at its core.
The Review of the Barbados Programme of Action for Sustainable Development of Small Island States
11. Ministers reviewed preparations for the International Meeting on the 1994 Barbados Programme of Action on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDs), which will take place in Mauritius, in August 2004, and the contributions the Commonwealth is making to this review. They confirmed their support for the Barbados Programme of Action. Great efforts have been made at the national level towards implementation, with notable progress achieved in the areas of legislative frameworks and in the ratification of relevant international instruments, including multilateral environmental agreements.
12. Ministers noted that a number of new challenges have emerged that are of concern to sustainable development in Commonwealth SIDS. They include security concerns in all their aspects including food and water security and the difficulties that small states with large coastal areas face in meeting their obligations under Security Council resolution 1373 and the emergence of highly communicable and vector-borne diseases, such as SARS and HIV/AIDS. Recognising that the characteristics of SIDS make them a special case for sustainable development, the International Meeting will also be an opportunity to consider policy approaches to reduce the inherent vulnerabilities of SIDS, and modalities of special treatment based on their structural disadvantages in terms of approaches to graduation and market access.
13. Ministers endorsed the support the Commonwealth Secretariat is providing to small states and regional organisations in their preparations for the Review and International Meeting. They called on the Secretariat to work closely with member states and partner organisations in taking forward the outcomes of the International Meeting and in supporting initiatives of SIDS to achieve sustainable development.
The Kava issue
14. Ministers noted the trade implications of a ban on KAVA exports from four Pacific Island countries (Fiji, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu) by the EU and some European countries. They noted the negative impact that this would have on the economies of those countries and the concerns raised by the Pacific countries that the medical/scientific grounds on which the ban was based required further independent scientific research and consultation with the exporting countries. They called on Heads of Government to urge the EU and the other countries that have imposed the ban to work with the KAVA exporting countries in finding expeditious solutions to the problems.
A new framework for strengthening Commonwealth collaboration with partner organisations
15. Ministers reviewed the proposals set out in the Secretariats paper on Working with Partner Organisations on Challenges Facing Small States: a Framework for Action. They emphasised that the Commonwealth will often be most effective in advancing the small states agenda when it works in partnership with other relevant international institutions. Such collaboration is one of the most powerful ways in which the Commonwealth can pursue its agenda of action on small states issues. They stressed the continuing need for coordination and co-operation among all agencies. They welcomed active participation in their own discussions by observers from the World Bank and European Commission.
16. They endorsed the general framework proposed in the paper, and asked the Secretariat to take forward the specific proposals for strengthening collaboration with individual organisations. In particular, the Ministerial Group stressed the following priorities for the Secretariat in developing such partnerships in future.
17. Proposals for strengthening individual partnerships on small states issues. The Group proposes that the Secretariat should:
continue and strengthen further its well established partnership with
the World Bank Group;
18. Regular review of key partnerships. The Secretariat should explore ways to review progress regularly, for example, by developing arrangements for consulting with key partner organisations at least once a year to review co-operation on small states issues. Ministers suggest that the results of such reviews be reported to the annual meeting of Commonwealth Finance Ministers.
19. Strengthening the annual small states forum. This annual forum, organised by the World Bank, continues to provide an excellent opportunity to review progress on the overall small states agenda together with key partner organisations. The Secretariat should continue to co-operate closely with the World Bank to make this annual event more productive.
20. These proposals are commended to Commonwealth Heads of Government for their approval.
4 December 2003