John Ronald Deep Ford wants the world to listen – to him and representatives of other small and vulnerable countries like his. Mr Ford is the Guyana’s Ambassador in Geneva. Guyana is a Commonwealth member state of about 800,000 people, on the Atlantic coast of South America.
Mr Ford says: “If you consider the impact of recent hurricanes that have knocked some small and vulnerable countries back 20 years, there is a lot of work to be done in terms of trade policy and how that impacts vulnerable economies in the World Trade Organization’s [WTO’s] work programme. That is why it is so important to have the support of the Small States Office.”
The Secretariat’s Small States Office in Geneva complements one in New York. It gives ambassadors of smaller Commonwealth countries a voice on the world stage.
They convened there in October of 2017 for the Office’s annual meeting, chaired by Nigel Morland, Chief Operating Officer at the Commonwealth.
Talking about what his country wanted to achieve through the Office, Mr Ford said: “We would like to see special and differential treatment that allows the small developing countries to have the flexibility to bounce back after these disasters. “We don’t want to see the current rules and restrictions on their trade, and the ability to support farmers to access markets, to be a limiting factor in their recovery. So the WTO must be flexible and agile.”
Praise for the Small States Office
Another delegate at the meeting, the Ambassador from Mauritius, Israhyananda Dhalladoo, said: “The workshops, news briefs, negotiating briefs and analytical work of the project has deepened the Mauritius delegation’s understanding of topical issues under negotiation at the WTO.
“The project is also helping us connect with potential providers of technical assistance in areas of trade facilitation. Mauritius supports any necessary measures to strengthen the project, particularly ensuring its continuation in face of changing trade negotiating dynamics in and outside Geneva.”
Malawi’s Ambassador, Robert Dufter Salama, added: “Because we have a small team here in Geneva, it is hard to keep pace with the flow of information from international organisations like the UN and WTO. This is where the trade office of the Commonwealth is invaluable.”
The office and business centre is home to small Commonwealth states including Guyana, Malawi, Seychelles and Solomon Islands as well as permanent delegations of regional groups such as the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) and the Pacific Islands Forum (PIFS). It is within walking distance of both the UN and the WTO.
The trade office of the Commonwealth is invaluable.— Malawi Ambassador, Robert Dufter Salama
In addition to providing tenants with a physical location, it gives them support and advice from Collin Zhuawu, a trade adviser at the Commonwealth. Part of Dr Zhuawu’s remit is to brief and report back on discussions and decisions made at the UN and the WTO. Typically, small states operate in Geneva with a skeleton staff, so his support often proves invaluable.
More progress with our Small States Offices, 2015-2017
Within her first month in office the Secretary-General travelled to both Small States Offices, in Geneva and New York. Her visits reinforced the offices’ importance in providing a platform for member countries to better engage in international forums.
The Secretary-General announced that she would establish a Commonwealth Group of Permanent Representatives for both cities, chaired by member countries. This would mirror the informal group of Commonwealth High Commissioners through the Small States Offices. The purpose of this Commonwealth group is to strengthen the community of High Commissioners and Permanent Representatives of the Commonwealth through the Small States Offices.
In 2016/17, the offices continued to enable and support the participation of 11 resident member states and two regional bodies in relevant international forums. They also provided a base for additional members to receive support and capacity-building. The new permanent Trade Adviser in Geneva, Dr Collin Zhuawu, engaged with 25 member states during the year. Meanwhile, Secretariat-based human rights advisers provided support through the 34th and 35th sessions of the Human Rights Council (March and June 2017).
“The Commonwealth continues to play a leading role in global affairs. The wonderful thing about the Commonwealth is the strength we all derive from our ability to share our experiences and learn from each other.” Prime Minister of Fiji J.V. Bainimarama